Case study

Does the daily commute affect women more than men?

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Author: Jennifer Roberts, University of Sheffield, in collaboration with Paul Dolan of the London School of Economics and Robert Hodgson of the University of York

Date: 27 February 2012

Type of case study: Research

About the research

The commute to and from work or school is a part of daily life that many report as a source of stress and frustration for a host of reasons, but especially when delays extend our regular commuting time. But does this affect our mental health and well-being?

Researchers from the University of Sheffield, London School of Economics, and University of York have examined the effect of commuting on the psychological health of men and women using data from the British Household Panel Survey. They hoped to identify differences between them and try to find an explanation for them.

Their results show that commuting time has a detrimental effect on women's psychological health but not on men's, and further investigation indicates this is due to women's larger responsibility for household tasks such as child care. When a woman's partner takes on the majority of these responsibilities, the woman is not adversely affected. The same holds true for men who provide most of the child care and for women with flexible working hours. The researchers came to this conclusion after they investigated a host of possible explanations for the gender difference including difference in women's working hours, occupational status and domestic responsibilities.

This research suggests that policies should be developed to promote an equal distribution of child-care responsibilities and for more employers to make flexible working hours arrangements available to female staff , which would help reduce the adverse effects of commuting time on women.

About the data

This research used data from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) from 1991 to 2004, a longitudinal study conducted by the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex. This study was originally conducted in Great Britain and later expanded to the whole of the UK in 2001, with the aim to investigate social and economic change at the individual and household level. This survey measured topics such as employment, household organisation, marital and relationship history and health, among many others.

The survey now forms part of the new Understanding Society study also conducted by ISER. The data are available for research access through the UK Data Service.

Methodology

The researchers used a fixed effects (FE) regression model to control for individual differences, and took the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) as their dependent variable (the GHQ is part of the British Household Panel Survey's survey questions). The key explanatory variable was the one-way commuting time in minutes; in addition, other conditioning variables were used that are known to determine a person's mental health such as age, sex, marital status and education.

Publications and outputs

Roberts, J., Hodgson, R. and Dolan, P. (2011) 'It's driving her mad: Gender differences in the effect of commuting on psychological health', Journal of Health Economics, 30(5), pp. 1064-1076. doi: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2011.07.006 Retrieved 11 September 2013 from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167629611000853#

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