Nobody likes having a long commute, although for some of us it is a trade off for a better life when we are at home. Traffic, awkward bus times, a sense of wasted time, all add to a negative effect on what we call "subjective" or "perceived" well being, which is a complicated way of talking about mental health and happiness. The U.K.'s Office of National Statistics did a study that proves that life satisfaction decreases with each extra minute spent commuting to and from work. Oddly, extreme commuters, those who spend three or more hours each way commuting, have a higher level of life satisfaction, perhaps because this is generally a specific lifestyle choice. Commutes between one and one and a half hours have the biggest negative effects (which is also related to the Marchetti principle for those wanting to dig deeper).
Studies show that women are affected more by long commutes than men. Research from Maastricht University shows that while everyone with a longer commute reports more doctor's visits and lower health, women also exercise less, have a higher BMI and call in sick more often. Driving also makes the impact of commuting worse.
So, why are women more affected? Here are some possible reasons:
Women may have longer overall commutes because they are more likely to engage in "trip chaining." It is still the case that women are more likely to stop on the way home to pick kids up from school or day care and are more likely to stop by the shops. This increases the length of the trip, reduces flexibility and may result in being stuck in traffic more.
The demands of child care may reduce the time available for the commute. For example, a mother in the U.S. who has multiple children in different schools often has, due to staggered bus times, to make more than one trip to the school bus stop before she can start her commute. This increases the risk of being late and overall stress levels.
Also, women are more stressed when alone. Girls with a good social life are at less risk of suicide, and while men tend to be more isolated socially, women tend to be socialized to be less tolerant of it. As commuting tends to be a solitary activity, long commutes increase social isolation.
What can women do about the added stress of commuting? Not everyone can choose to live closer to their job, especially if they have children. In the U.S., where distances are longer, it is not uncommon for the only available housing near a place of work to be high rent, one bedroom apartments or condos. However, there are things that you can do:
Walk or cycle short commuting distances. Choose cycling routes that use bike paths or have less traffic when possible. The increased physical activity can counter the effect of commuting on weight.
Consider carpooling with somebody you know. Having somebody to talk to during the commute can reduce social isolation. Alternatively, listening to the radio or to podcasts or recorded audio dramas can help you feel less alone.
Reading books is good on public transport. Audiobooks have been demonstrated to reduce commuting stress if you are unable to read (however, if you are cycling, please listen with only one earbud for safety).
Try to use commute time productively if you don't have to drive.
Telecommute or work from home when possible. However, bear in mind that working from home can also increase social isolation and loneliness, so a balance may be desired here.
Try to get your husband or partner to switch off on duties such as dropping kids off at school or shopping, so that the burden does not always fall on you.
Talk to your boss about shifting work hours to better accommodate family schedules. If you are constantly rushing to be at work on time, it might be worth asking if you can get in half an hour later and leave half an hour later, or take a shorter lunch break.
And of course, choosing a job closer to home or moving closer to work is the optimal solution, although usually one of the hardest to implement. That's why Staybil technology was designed.
Commuting is stressful, and it takes a particular toll on women, especially married women with children and household responsibilities. Taking steps to reduce commuting stress can improve your health and the balance of your life dramatically.