Commuting = Divorce, Obesity, and Death (weekend op-ed)


I tried driving in today, and down that road lies madness, so I’m taking the train.

I wrote that email – those exact words – a few weeks ago, when a I started commuting from the ‘burbs into downtown Chicago on a regular (daily) basis.  I stand by those words, too, as the stress, rage, and screaming fits I endured on the I-90 into Chicago left me exhausted and longing for home … and I hadn’t even started work, yet!

Keep in mind, I’m one of the lucky ones:  I get to commute in a (relatively) new, cushy, leather-wrapped, heated-seat, climate controlled, premium-surround-sound Volkswagen.  On nice days, I can ride in on one of my scooters.  Life is good.  I have choices that the guy sweating to death in the 12 year old, rusted out guzzler in the next lane does not.

Still, that commute (25-ish miles each way) sucked the life out of me.

Apparently, I’m not the only person to feel that way;  and, if a study from Sweden’s Umea University is to be believed, I had every reason to!

Researchers involved in the study found that couples in which (only) one partner commutes for longer than 45 minutes are 40 % more likely to divorce.  In addition, those commuters with long transit times suffer from disproportionate pain, stress, obesity, and “dissatisfaction” when compared to the general population.

Annie Lowrey, over at Slate, has written a fantastic piece on the Umea report that also highlights outside studies – including a 2006 study by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and Princeton economist Alan Krueger, which surveyed 900 Texan women, asking them how much they enjoyed a number of common activities … commuting came in dead last – in an attempt to quantify something that we, as people, almost intrinsically know:  commuting is not fun.

What is this doing on a site focused on America’s oil dependence?

I’m glad you asked.

In recent weeks, we’ve posted articles about how people are being influenced by high gas prices in greater numbers, articles about high speed rail, articles about America’s suburbs becoming the abandoned slums of the future (or, if you’re in Detroit, just “the abandoned slums”), and all of this seems to be very much connected to America’s oil addiction.

Think about it:  if you didn’t have a car, if you couldn’t have a car (for whatever reason) you’d turn to rail and public transport when you needed to cover long distances.  You’d buy a home near the societal infrastructure you need to access on a regular basis (schools, grocery stores, hospitals, train stations, etc.).  You might even find that the immediate “benefits” of your 3 bed plus den plus “bonus room” suburban home don’t necessarily outweigh the increased risk of divorce, obesity (and all that goes with it), and all that jazz up there from the Slate article … and you might find yourself in the same position as those 75 % of new home buyers looking specifically to reduce their dependence on gas and oil, regardless of what your voter registration card says.

Imagine that!

SourcesSlate, Umea University, via Treehugger.

About the Author

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.
  • Dan

    The reason the roads are so bad in the U.S is the massive over use of fuel your country uses, and also the price it’s so cheap in the U.S that everyone can afford to fill up big 5.0 guzzling cars. You guys need to change quickly your killing yourselfs with oil and fumes.

  • I also commute 25 miles each way to work in Chicago via I-88 and 290. I don’t think it is optimal but if you compare it to riding the METRA it is 100% better.

    I used to work on Michigan Avenue and from my house it was 1.5-2 hours each way. The office was no where near Union Station and the express trains to Naperville were infrequent and packed. And it cost $170 per month for a pass, or $5 each way per ride. A lot more than I pay in gas per month now.

    I had more stress over leaving mid task to catch the train (and many times to find it was delayed, canceled or like recenly derailed) than I do now with some traffic.

    Yes, commuting sucks people don’t realize that a lot of large businesses refuse to consider locations in the suburbs because they fear they won’t have the downtown “image” or they won’t be close to where the execs live on the north shore even though it would cost a lot less for real estate/rental in the suburbs.

    So, people like us who can’t afford the north shore and won’t live in big a city because of the pollution and high cost, end up moving to a reasonable suburb with nice schools and green spaces. And we spend 45 min each way in traffic to get to work.

    A new car is in our future and we don’t really see any good options so we will keep going with a 25 mpg and a 30 mpg car even though it isn’t really helping the planet.

    • I get what you’re saying 100%, and – when it comes to the Metra – it really is a “luck of the draw” sort of thing.

      My situation is the exact reverse: the AH station is close to home, work is 2-3 blocks from the station, and my “real job” hours (9-6) mean there’s a train coming through every 15-30 min. Sure, I’m an hour from home, but it’s generally a peaceful ride with a book, hot coffee, and the trains I catch are never really packed.

      Finally, at 20-ish mpg HWY at $4/gal, it costs me about $8 in gas each way (remember, that 20 mpg is at highway speeds – the car still burns fuel at a rate of 3 gal/hour, regardless of speed) plus depreciation and maintenance (so, $10, easily – not including the monthly payment on a reliable car). My monthly pass is $118 – at 20 working days/mo., that’s $2.95 each way (118/20/2) a far Far FAR cry from the $5 each way you mention … might want to double-check that math?

      • The costs were from Naperville to Union Station per the website. I did a monthly pass pretax and it was still $170.

        I got lucky and was able to find a job in Oak Park and driving that commute is 1/2 the time/distance and has more flexibility.

        I guess my frustration is that few companies consider locations in Oak Brook, Naperville and that vicinity so everyone who lives there has to clog the roads and go to work somewhere else. Most people really just can’t afford to live in the city at a good quality of life.

        The expansion of Plainfield/Aurora has clogged I-55 also. There aren’t any companies there but there are thousands of people who would like to work there and the cost would be lower for real estate/facilties.

        I know there is an idea that we need to return to urban living for cost/fuel efficiency and I agree as long as there are multiple hubs in Chicagoland, we can’t just have one.

  • JM

    I hated driving in Chicago especially during rush hour. Thank god I now live in a smaller community and work is less than a mile away. I love biking on summer days.

  • Do you guys ever wonder whether the people who insist that they’re not saving money on public transport are really doing the math?