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Long commutes 'make workers miserable'

The ONS report suggests that the worst length of time to travel is between 61 and 90 minutes. Photo: REUTERS/Chris Helgren

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) says Commuting to work makes you unhappy and anxious, particularly if you spend more than half-an-hour on a bus.

In general, those who have to travel to get to work have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, are less happy and have higher anxiety than non-commuters.

"Holding all else equal, commuters have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, lower levels of happiness and higher anxiety on average than non-commuters."

– ONS report
The report authors say that walking or cycling may not have the stress-relieving effects that would be expected. Credit: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

More than 60,000 people participated in the research which is based on the Annual Population Survey, 91% of which were classified as commuters.

Key findings:

  • Holding all else equal, commuters have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, lower levels of happiness and higher anxiety on average than non-commuters.
  • The worst effects of commuting on personal well-being were associated with journey times lasting between 61 and 90 minutes. On average, all aspects of personal well-being were negatively affected by commutes of this duration when compared to those travelling only 15 minutes or less to work.
  • When commuting time reaches three hours or more, the negative effects on personal well-being disappear, suggesting that the small minority of people with this commuting pattern have quite different experiences to most other commuters.
  • Combining both travel method used and the length of time spent commuting showed that taking the bus or coach to work on a journey lasting more than 30 minutes was the most negative commuting option in personal well-being terms.
  • The effects of more active forms of commuting such as cycling and walking on personal well-being varied with the amount of time spent travelling in these ways.

The authors also found that walking or cycling may not have the stress-relieving activities that would be expected with additional exercise.

Cyclists who travel for 16 to 30 minutes each way had lower happiness levels and higher anxiety than those who travel between one and 15 minutes to work via any mode of transport.

And people who walk for the same amount of time had lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that daily activities are worthwhile and lower happiness levels.

"The effects of commuting on personal well-being were greatest for anxiety and happiness, suggesting that commuting affects day to day emotions more than overall evaluations of satisfaction with life or the sense that daily activities are worthwhile.

The findings suggest that commuting is negatively related to personal well-being and that in general (for journeys of up to three hours) longer commutes are worse for personal well-being than shorter commutes."

– ONS report