While long commutes are stressful for most, the strain hits women the hardest, according to a new study. Although women's travel times average slightly less than men's, the study found that their psychological well-being suffers more from the experience.
Researchers from the University of Sheffield and the London School of Economics analyzed data on the commuting times and mental health of employed adults, taken from the British Household Survey, and reported by WebMD. Although women en route for an average of eight minutes less a day and worked an average of nine hours less a week, the study concludes that their "psychological health is adversely affected by commuting while men's, generally, is not."
We've known for a while that women aren't fond of commuting. When psychologist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and economist Alan Krueger surveyed 900 Texas women five years ago about how much they enjoyed various activities, commuting ranked at rock bottom.
Although the average time spent at a job and commuting is less for women, it's more than made up by the time spent in housework and childcare. On a given day, women in OECD countries spend an average of 2½ more hours than men on unpaid household labor. That adds up to 23 extra 40-hour workweeks.
This "second job" compounds the stress of the daily commute, and infuses it with guilt for some mothers, according to the study. The researchers also thought that the multiple stops that women often make "for things such as childcare pickup and drop-off, and food shopping" could explain the gender discrepancy.
Women's jobs are also more likely to be lower-paid and lower-status than men's, which might make the daily commute more grueling. Once household chores become more evenly divided, and women's status in the workforce climbs, the researchers speculate that this gap will narrow.
Meanwhile, commute times generally are on the rise. In 1997, the average British worker commuted for 48 minutes a day. Less than a decade later, that had increased to 54 minutes. As WebMD calculates, that's 12 percent of an average full-time workweek.
Long commutes don't just mean more mental strain, but according to Gallup, they're also related to neck and back pain, high cholesterol and obesity. Another study, at Sweden's Umea University, found that when one partner commutes for longer than 45 minutes, the couple is 40 percent more likely to divorce.
Every 10 minutes of commuting time also means 10 percent fewer "social connections," according to Harvard professor Robert Putnam, author of "Bowling Alone."
And social connections are one of the greatest boosts to women's well-being. Those surveyed Texas women listed "socializing" as their second favorite activity, just below sex.
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