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.

Jo Borrás

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, out on two wheels, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.