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Does commuting affect well-being?

Commuting has a negative impact on personal well-being with the worst effects on happiness and anxiety

The latest data analysis from the Annual Population Survey1 looks at how commuting to work affects the personal well-being of people in employment in the UK. The analysis draws on people’s own assessments of their well-being and looks at this in relation to their commuting experiences, in terms of time spent travelling to work (one way) and the method of travel used.  The results show that all aspects of personal well-being are negatively affected by commuting, with the largest effects on daily emotions such as happiness and anxiety. 

How did commuting affect personal well-being?

From the data analysis, it appears that commuters have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, lower levels of happiness and higher anxiety on average than non-commuters2. Average happiness levels begin to fall and anxiety levels begin to rise after the first 15 minutes of the commute to work. Then, the worst effects of commuting on personal well-being are experienced on average by those whose journey to work lasts between 61 and 90 minutes.

Although, when commuting time reaches three hours or more (one way), negative effects on personal well-being disappear, suggesting that the small minority of people with this commuting pattern have quite different experiences to most other commuters.

Chart 1: How the personal well-being of commuters and non-commuters differs after holding individual characteristics equal

United Kingdom

Chart 1: How the personal well-being of commuters and non-commuters differs after holding individual characteristics equal
Source: Annual Population Survey (APS) - Office for National Statistics

Notes:

  1. In this chart, commuters are represented as the baseline of zero. The bars show how much higher or lower non-commuters rated each aspect of their personal well-being on average compared to commuters.
  2. All of the findings in Figure 1 are statistically significant at the 5% level.

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How did travel by car, bus and train affect well-being?

The analysis also looked at the relationship between the method of travel to work and the travel time (one way), and how this affected people’s well-being. For instance, those commuting to work in a private vehicle (car, minibus or works van) were less happy and more anxious on average for all journey times over 16 minutes than those travelling only up to 15 minutes.

Long bus or coach journeys negatively impacted on all aspects of personal well-being. Those spending more than 30 minutes commuting by bus had lower levels of life satisfaction, a lower sense that daily activities are worthwhile, lower happiness and higher anxiety on average than those travelling up to 15 minutes (by any method).

However, there were no adverse effects on personal well-being for those commuting by train, underground, light railway or tram for journeys of up to 30 minutes compared with those travelling up to 15 minutes (by any method).  After 30 minutes of travel time, anxiety levels increased for people using any of these travel methods.  Additionally, those travelling by underground, light railway or tram had a lower sense that daily activities are worthwhile compared with those travelling only up to 15 minutes (by any method).  

How did cycling or walking to work affect well-being?

The findings were mixed on active forms of commuting such as cycling and walking. Their effects on personal well-being depended on the time spent travelling to work. For example, those cycling between 16 and 30 minutes to work had lower happiness and higher anxiety on average than those travelling only 15 minutes to work (by any method). However, people cycling 30 minutes or more to work had similar levels of well-being to those travelling only up to 15 minutes to work.  

Where can I find out more about personal well-being statistics?

These statistics were analysed by the Measures of Personal Well-Being branch at ONS. This analysis is based largely on data from the Annual Population Survey, carried out by ONS. If you would like to find out more about the latest well-being statistics, you can read the release or visit the people and places page. If you have any comments or suggestions, we would like to hear them! Please email us at: personal.well-being@ONS.gsi.gov.uk

Footnotes 

  1. The analysis is based on data from the Annual Population Survey (APS) collected from April 2012 to March 2013.

  2. Non-commuters are defined as employees or self-employed people who said they work from home in their main job and specifically in the same grounds or buildings as home.  Those who worked in different places using home as a base were not included as they may spend an undetermined amount of time travelling for work related activities.

Categories: People and Places, Communities, Societal Wellbeing, Measuring Societal Well-being
Content from the Office for National Statistics.
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