Daily Commutes Tougher on Women

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Many psychologists study how a person's job affects his or her well-being, but little research has looked at the mental impact of another regular activity: commuting to and from work.

One recent analysis seems to suggest that women are more negatively affected by commuting than men.

A group of economics experts in the UK considered the effects of people's daily commutes — the time from leaving home to arriving at work — on their psychological health by using data from the British Household Panel Survey between 1991 and 2004.

In total, responses from 7,761 women and 7,316 men were used. Respondents answered questions about their well-being, health and other factors related to work and home life. For instance, whether a person was married or had kids was accounted for. They also looked at people's income, housing quality and overall satisfaction with their jobs.

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In this vein, one might make the argument that a person makes a longer commute because of other compensating factors such as having a nicer home or getting paid more. But researchers found a gender divide early on, regardless of these factors.

Even though women on average commuted fewer minutes each day than men, more commuting equated to lower well-being scores. Among both sexes, though, people with more active forms of commuting (driving versus taking the bus) had lower well-being scores.

The team's analysis, featured in the Journal of Health Economics, relies on associations between people's answers to a General Health Questionnaire and minutes commuting.

It's difficult to rule out other factors not accounted for in the study, but it still brings up an interesting point: Why is a person's commute not factored into their work experience? Why don't governments and companies consider the effects of commuting on workers?

It's likely more research on this topic will explore whether commutes actually produce these effects or simply exacerbate existing stress.

On the other hand, studying the effects of traffic is a road researchers have already traveled down. Indeed, it's safe to say traffic rubs us the wrong way.

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Other preliminary research supports the idea that mothers who try to take on too much in the workplace and home are more likely to feel depressed, according to one TIME article. A woman may feel guilty if her actions don't match up to what others expect her to do at home.

Despite women bearing their own burdens, one can't help but think men could experience similar problems — being the "breadwinner" or working long hours, perhaps.

So why are women more affected by commuting?

One theory is that women may be feeling pressure to juggle the demands of both the office and home, perhaps more than their partners, which makes time en route seem like a waste of time. Researchers suspect this might be the case after noticing that mothers whose partners provided primary care for children did not have lower wellness scores.

But the trend was also present among single women, too, which raises more questions than what the study could provide answers to.

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