Everybody hates commuting. Why do we do it?


Funny, I’d been planning to do a bit on commuting for a while.

Yesterday I saw Jonah Lehrer‘s excellent post on the subject and figured now might be a good time.

As he and David Brooks both note, commuting dramatically and negatively affects happiness. I agree.

Everyone hates commuting. Even sex offenders hate commuting.

Married women have a pretty dramatic relationship with commuting — it stops them from working:

These points were confirmed when Black and his coauthors examined Census data from 1950 through 2000 for white, married women in 50 U.S. metropolitan areas. The variation in employment rates held steady even when accounting for differing education levels and for women with and without children. For example, in Minneapolis, 79 percent of married women are employed, while only 49 percent are in New York. This disparity can be attributed to the fact that the labor supply of married women grew more rapidly over the last 60 years in Minneapolis than New York.

Black examined a variety of factors—local housing prices, child care costs, and local unemployment rates—but one stood out: commute times in metropolitan areas. Through an analysis of Census commuting time data and National Transportation statistics for the last three decades—the only period for which such information has been recorded—the authors found that on average women have a shorter trip to the office than men, and women with children commute even less. The cities with the longest commute times are New York; Washington, DC; and Chicago, and those with the shortest are Dayton, Oklahoma City, and Buffalo.

The authors predicted, and confirmed, that cities with longer commutes are associated with fewer married women who work—a link that is strongest for high school graduates. On average for this group, a one-minute increase in daily commute time appears to be correlated with 0.4 to 0.5 percent decrease in the labor force participation rate.

Source, Full paper here.

There are a number of theories on why this is the case for women who don’t have children, including the more even distribution of traditionally female jobs.

So with commuting being such an issue, why does anyone do it? Certainly there are the cognitive biases that Lehrer mentions. Another huge issue is money:

A search model of the labor market is augmented to include commuting time to work. The theory posits that wages are positively related to commute distance, by a factor itself depending negatively on the bargaining power of workers. Since not all combinations of distance and wages are accepted, there is non-random selection of accepted job offers. We build on these ingredients to explore in the data the relationship between wages and commute time. We find that neglecting to account for this selection will bias downward the wage impact of commuting, and marginally affect the coefficients on education, age and gender. The correlation between the residuals of the selectivity equation and the distance equation is -0.70, showing the large impact of commute time on job acceptance decisions. We also use the theory to calculate the bargaining power of workers which largely varies depending on demographic groups: it appears to be much larger for men than that for women and that the bargaining power of women with young children is essentially zero.

Source: “Commuting, Wages and Bargaining Power”

Let’s hope the quote from Repo Men isn’t true: “The more you drive, the less intelligent you are.”

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