Long commutes actually shorten women’s lives as well as their relationships, according to new research presented last week at the Association of American Geographers annual conference in Los Angeles. Erika Sandow, a Swedish social geographer with Umeö University, said her research team had reviewed a Swedish database of almost 60,000 commuters to see if long-distance commuting was associated with dying young.
Their team defined a long commute as more than 50 kilometers — over 30 miles — each way.
In a previous study, Sandow showed that if one or both spouses had a long-distance commute, the marriage was more likely to break up. In fact, she found that the commuters had a 14 percent greater risk of separating than non-commuters.
The risk was greatest in the first five years of commuting. After that, it seemed to become a normal part of life, and commuters no longer had a significantly greater risk of divorce than non-commuters.
In the new study, Sandow said that she expected to find that both male and female long-distance commuters would show higher death rates than non-commuters. However, she didn’t find any statistically increase in the death rate for men.
So far, the team has only proved that there’s a link between earlier death and a long commute for women, especially low income women. For those women, the longer the drive to work, the shorter the life span.
However, it isn’t entirely clear if the long commutes caused the early death. A low income, less educated working woman might have other risks that contribute to an early death. Women’s lifespans in poor, rural regions of the United States seem to be getting shorter, perhaps in part because of the rising obesity epidemic — and those are the very places that might demand long drives to get to work.
In March, the US Census Bureau released a report that said over half a million American workers traveled over 90 minutes a day to get to work. However, most of these so-called “mega-commuters” were older, married, well-compensated men — the group least likely to suffer any ill effects from the long commute.
[traffic light photo by William Warby via Flickr and Wikipedia Commons]