Monday 26 January 2015

How the trip to work can ruin your marriage (and other travellers’ tales)

For many of us, our working day begins and ends with a journey. And whether we travel by bus, train or car, for one mile or a hundred, it can be a stressful experience. A number of recent studies examined the extent to which the daily commute affects our lives. There were some surprising results.


According to Erika Sandow, long-distance commuters have a 40pc greater risk of separating from their partners than other people. Sandow, a social geographer with Sweden's Umea University, led a study that looked at the lives of two million Swedes who were either married or cohabiting.

She found that, while those willing to commute were likely to benefit from increased income and career opportunities, it came at the cost of broken relationships.

"Commuting requires physical and mental energy, which may generate stress and reduced quality of health, which can spill over into family life."

What qualifies as a long commute varies across Europe. In Scotland it's 15km; while in Sweden 100km is considered a long commute. For the purposes of her study, Sandow defined it as 30km each way. This journey length would be familiar to many Irish workers.

In the study, Sandow found that those who commuted longer distances had a broader job market to choose from, had better career development opportunities, and had better income development. She also discovered that the vast majority of these commuters were men.

This meant that the women in these relationships had to take responsibility for the children, and often had to settle for less well paid jobs closer to home.

While there were women in the study who commuted longer distances for better jobs, Sandow found that they often experienced greater pressures and felt less successful in their work than the men did.

"Female long-distance commuters have been found to experience more stress induced by commuting than men have. This stress is also found to be a consequence of too many duties to fulfil, of which concerns for children are the most stressful."


Not all of those included in the study were commuting out of choice; many were commuting because of deficiencies in local job opportunities.

Those in rural areas were most likely to be in this category and were also at the highest risk of relationship problems. Sandow paints a bleak picture.

"For those long-distance commuting and living in a rural area there is a high risk for both women and men that the relationship will end within five years."

"It would appear many workers accept jobs that they may have not considered in the past, with their additional demands and sacrifices, due to financial need. So although the job may seem like the ideal solution at that time, they may not fully appreciate the practical impact of this until they have lived it for a while," she says.


While it's easy to understand that the length and duration of a commute can impact on a relationship, strange though it may seem, the direction each partner travels may also have an effect on the quality of their relationship.

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