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The Commuting Paradox


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.


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