Menus Subscribe Search
(PHOTO: EGD/SHUTTERSTOCK)

(PHOTO: EGD/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Commuting to an Early Grave

• April 12, 2013 • 7:39 AM

(PHOTO: EGD/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Long commutes take a toll on everybody, but women pay more dearly than men.

Got a killer commute? You just may.

Thursday in Los Angeles (appropriately), social geographer Erika Sandow presented her latest slice of commuting scholarship, which finds that some workers with long commutes—more than 31 miles (50 kilometers) one way—die sooner than people who live closer to their job. Sandow, with Sweden’s Umeå University, outlined her as-yet-unpublished work during the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers.

There’s already enough academic research on the perils of commuting to fill a minivan, or at least a Mini. Sandow noted existing studies that showed how commuting was linked to higher blood pressure, added stress, taking more sick leave, gaining more weight, a higher incidence of heart disease, and more. Her own work, besides establishing the parameters for a long commute, has shown the toll that commuting takes on relationships.

But those earlier studies, while offering consistently dire warnings of commuting’s damage to body and mind, stopped short of drawing a line from the fast lane to the final off ramp. Many of those results also came from small data sets. So Sandow and her Umeå colleagues trolled through a wonderful longitudinal database from Statistics Sweden covering the period from 1985 to 2008 and looked at workers who were 55 in 1994, then compared those who made long commutes (2,744 of them, a majority of them men) with those who didn’t (56,955).

Sandow said she assumed at the start of the investigation that, given what was known about the perils of the long-distance commuter, there would be a robust correlation between commuting and an earlier death. And there was a statistically meaningful link—but only for women, and only for women who either had a low income or low education. The correlation grew stronger as the commute lengthened.

Why only women (although maybe that’s not such a surprise)? Sandow said her team didn’t have an answer, but wondered if women experienced greater “negative stress” because they had greater household obligations than the men (even in egalitarian Sweden).

It’s also worth noting Sandow’s previous work that found long-distance commuters usually were taking advantage of career-enhancing employment, which suggests a fatter paycheck may ameliorate some of the stress of spending hours in the car.

Michael Todd
Most of Michael Todd's career has been spent in newspaper journalism, ranging from papers in the Marshall Islands to tiny California farming communities. Before joining the publishing arm of the Miller-McCune Center, he was managing editor of the national magazine Hispanic Business.

More From Michael Todd

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 19 • 4:00 PM

In Your Own Words: What It’s Like to Get Sued Over Past Debts

Some describe their surprise when they were sued after falling behind on medical and credit card bills.



September 19 • 1:26 PM

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won’t change minds.


September 19 • 12:00 PM

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.


September 19 • 10:00 AM

Why the Poor Remain Poor

A follow-up to “How Being Poor Makes You Poor.”


September 19 • 9:03 AM

Why Science Won’t Defeat Ebola

While science will certainly help, winning the battle against Ebola is a social challenge.


September 19 • 8:00 AM

Burrito Treason in the Lone Star State

Did Meatless Mondays bring down Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples?


September 19 • 7:31 AM

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.


September 19 • 6:00 AM

The Most Untouchable Man in Sports

How the head of the governing body for the world’s most popular sport freely wields his wildly incompetent power.


September 19 • 4:00 AM

The Danger of Dining With an Overweight Companion

There’s a good chance you’ll eat more unhealthy food.



September 18 • 4:00 PM

Racial Disparity in Imprisonment Inspires White People to Be Even More Tough on Crime

White Americans are more comfortable with punitive and harsh policing and sentencing when they imagine that the people being policed and put in prison are black.



September 18 • 2:00 PM

The Wages of Millions Are Being Seized to Pay Past Debts

A new study provides the first-ever tally of how many employees lose up to a quarter of their paychecks over debts like unpaid credit card or medical bills and student loans.


September 18 • 12:00 PM

When Counterfeit and Contaminated Drugs Are Deadly

The cost and the crackdown, worldwide.


September 18 • 10:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Molly Crabapple?

Noah Davis talks to Molly Crapabble about Michelangelo, the Medicis, and the tension between making art and making money.


September 18 • 9:00 AM

Um, Why Are These Professors Creeping on My Facebook Page?

The ethics of student-teacher “intimacy”—on campus and on social media.


September 18 • 8:00 AM

Welcome to the Economy Economy

With the recent introduction of Apple Pay, the Silicon Valley giant is promising to remake how we interact with money. Could iCoin be next?



September 18 • 6:09 AM

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.


September 18 • 6:00 AM

Homeless on Purpose

The latest entry in a series of interviews about subculture in America.


September 18 • 4:00 AM

Why Original Artworks Move Us More Than Reproductions

Researchers present evidence that hand-created artworks convey an almost magical sense of the artist’s essence.


September 17 • 4:00 PM

Why Gun Control Groups Have Moved Away From an Assault Weapons Ban

A decade after the ban expired, gun control groups say that focusing on other policies will save more American lives.


September 17 • 2:00 PM

Can You Make Two People Like Each Other Just By Telling Them That They Should?

OKCupid manipulates user data in an attempt to find out.


September 17 • 12:00 PM

Understanding ISIL Messaging Through Behavioral Science

By generating propaganda that taps into individuals’ emotional and cognitive states, ISIL is better able motivate people to join their jihad.


Follow us


For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won't change minds.

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.

Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists' appetites.

The Big One

One in three drivers in Brooklyn's Park Slope—at certain times of day—is just looking for parking. The same goes for drivers in Manhattan's SoHo. September/October 2014 new-big-one-3

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.