Commuting between home and work is routinely performed by workers and any wellbeing impacts of commuting will consequently affect a large proportion of the population. This paper presents findings from analyses of the impact of commuting (time and mode) on multiple aspects of Subjective Well-Being (SWB), including: satisfaction with life overall and the SWB sub-domains of job satisfaction, satisfaction with leisure time availability and self-reported health. Measures of strain and mental health (GHQ-12) are also examined. Six waves of individual-level panel data from Understanding Society (2009/10 to 2014/15) are analysed, providing a sample of over 26,000 workers living in England. Associations between commuting and SWB are identified, paying particular attention to those arising from individual changes in commuting circumstances over the six waves. It is found that longer commute times are associated with lower job and leisure time satisfaction, increased strain and poorer mental health. The strongest association is found for leisure time satisfaction. Despite these negative associations with the SWB sub-domains, longer commute times were not associated with lower overall life satisfaction (except where individuals persisted with them over all six waves). Workers in England appear to be successful in balancing the negative aspects of commuting against the wider benefits, e.g. access to employment, earnings and housing. Differences amongst selected population sub-groups are also examined. The job satisfaction of younger adults and lower income groups are not found to be negatively associated with longer commute times; longer commute times are more strongly negatively associated with the job satisfaction of women compared to men. With respect to mode of transport, walking to work is associated with increased leisure time satisfaction and reduced strain. The absence of the commute, via working from home, is associated with increased job satisfaction and leisure time satisfaction. Overall, the study indicates that shorter commute times and walkable commutes can contribute to improved SWB – particularly through the release of leisure time. But life satisfaction overall will only be maintained if the benefits of undertaking the commute (earnings and satisfactory housing/employment) are not compromised.
Clark, B., Chatterjee, K., Martin, A., & Davis, A. (2020). How commuting affects subjective wellbeing. Transportation, 47, 2777–2805. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11116-019-09983-9