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The Commuting Paradox

Posted by: Michelle Conlin on July 22, 2008

extreme commute.jpg

With the rise of designer gas prices, no one is getting slaughtered more than the fastest-growing group of commuters: extreme commuters. Soon, they may well have to flee suburbia.

This made me think of a study I came across a few years ago when I was writing a piece about the epidemic of extreme commuting.

The research came from a fascinting reserach duo in Europe, who proved the Faustian Bargain of commuting in a paper called The Stress That Doesn’t Pay: The Commuting Paradox.

The researchers, economists Bruno S. Frey and Alois Stutzer, of the University of Zurich’s Institute for Empirical Research in Economics, found that most people travel long distances with the idea that they’ll accept the burden for something better, be it a house, salary, or school.

They presume the trade-off is worth the agony. But studies show that commuters are on average much less satisfied with their lives than noncommuters.

A commuter who travels one hour, one way, would have to make 40% more than his current salary to be as fully satisfied with his life as a noncommuter, Frey and Stutzer found. People usually overestimate the value of the things they’ll obtain by commuting — more money, more material goods, more prestige — and underestimate the benefit of what they are losing: social connections, hobbies, and health.

Says Stutzer, “Commuting is a stress that doesn’t pay off.”

Something else to think about in the era of couture gas.

Reader Comments


July 24, 2008 2:02 AM

That's exactly what is happening in India too... esp Bangalore... everybody is sick of traffic here. But there is no option, as India's jobs are concentrated in only high dense cities, as elsewhere you will get a Rs 5000/- (120$) per month per engineer.

Sushobhan Mukherjee

July 24, 2008 5:53 AM

I am on the road 3 + hours a day in Mumbai and hate every moment of it.

This is a notoriously slow traffic city, my commute is 30km each way. Civic infrastructure is poor, roads r connected potholes & road rage manifests itself thru incessant arguments and honking.

My wife works next door to where we stay. At least she is spared the daily agony. And she sees the city thru a very different set of glasses than I do.

This article resonated.



July 24, 2008 9:41 AM

Is it really the commute that makes the difference? Perhaps commuters are less happy to begin with. They are probably more perfectionistic about their surroundings, and the relationship between perfectionism and unhappiness is pretty strong.

North Texas

July 25, 2008 6:29 PM

I have held jobs close to home and been an extreme commuter. I was happier when the job was close to home. There was less stress due to traffic and I had more free time. The only upside to commuting was being able to listen to my favorite radio programs or audio books. I drove 1.5 to 2 hours each way and tried to look at each drive as a mini road trip to help ease the anxiety.

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