A long-distance commute increases the likelihood a marriage will end in divorce

Social geographer Erika Sandow at Sweden’s Umea University has published her doctoral dissertation analysis of long-distance commutes and their impact on income and relationships in “On the road. Social aspects of commuting long distances to work.” In brief, her research found that a commute of greater than 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) typically has economic and career benefits (large paycheck, job advancement) but significantly increases the likelihood a person will divorce (40 percent), especially if the long-distance commuter is male.

The dissertation used data collected from more than two million Swedes during 1995 and 2005. The findings, although based on Swedish data, seem to be very applicable to other European and American countries.

From the university’s press release about Sandow’s dissertation:

… those who commute long distances gain access to a broader job market and often to greater career opportunities and better income development. But women and men benefit in different degrees, with income increasing more for long-distance commuting men. However, these commuters’ partners lose income, and since most long-distance commuters are men, this means that many women both take home less money and take on the responsibility for the family and children.

– It’s also common for women to take a less qualified job close to home, or to start working part time, in order to drop off and pick up the kids at day care, says Erika Sandow.

Her findings show that expanding work regions primarily benefit the careers of men, and continued increases in long-distance commuting may preserve and reinforce gender differences in the home and on the job market.

Weighing the benefits and disadvantages of a long-distance job prospect is already difficult for one’s life. Knowing that it also carries an increased likelihood for divorce and stress are just additional points to consider.

You can find the majority of the dissertation online. However, the text of four of the chapters is not included, only their abstracts.

29 Comments for “A long-distance commute increases the likelihood a marriage will end in divorce”

  1. posted by Gina on

    Interesting article.
    I think this issue is a little different when applied to the US. People have a more relaxed attitude toward larger distances since the country is so big compared to any European country. And large US cities are far larger and more widespread than any European city (apart from London and Paris maybe). Americans are also used to taking their cars everywhere and just travel longer distances, even to the mall.
    In general I think a long commute pays a toll on any relationship. It is just more defined by the time it takes and couples or families may be apart, not necessarily the absolute miles.

  2. posted by timgray on

    The funny part is My commute of 45 miles every morning is shorter in TIME spent in the car than co workers that live 10 miles from the office. I travel at 70mph for 90% of the trip, while they travel at 8-10mph in heavy traffic trying to get from the condos to the office. Distance means nothing, time spent in the car plus stress level of the commute… Mine is zero stress, I crank up the tunes on the way home and if my wife calls the bluetooth picks up after pausing the iphone. If I had to sit in slow traffic, I would go insane.

    It seems that this study is severely lacking in a lot of research.

  3. posted by Denman on

    I have commuted a 100 mile RT for many years. So far so good marriage wise. Heck I am jealous of my wife, she walks to work! Taking into consideration vacations/holiday/weekends etc. I work 46 weeks a year with a 10 + hour a week commute 46X10=460 hours a year = 58 eight hour days = 11.5 extra work weeks (time wise), 19 complete 24 hours days. It starts to be life sapping after a while. I sure am glad that these days I have XM and podcasts! I agree that distance is not the issue, it’s all about time. I would rather drive my 50 mile commute than some of the shorter commutes folks have in the D.C. area, where they are jammed up in traffic for an hour on a 25 mile drive etc.

  4. posted by Daniel M. Wood on

    I think a long commute puts a strain on the relationship. You cannot spend as much time together, the time you do spend together is more stressed which hurts the long term relationship.

    If you add to that all the opportunities of infidelity it makes bot partners nervous and trust deteriorates.

    I think these are some of the reasons it hurts relationships.
    If you can get by that though, it doesn’t have to be a problem.

  5. posted by Marie @ Awakeatheart on

    I agree with timgray, it’s the time and not the distance. I once worked in NYC, a two hour each way public transportation commute. I will NEVER do so again, regardless of the monetary gain or green-ness of public transportation. I felt like I had no life, and I was miserable. My life is worth more than that, and my time spent with my family and in my home is so much more important than extra cash. These days I’m lucky to be in a job where telecommuting is acceptable and I can cut out the hour each way drive to work on a regular basis.

  6. posted by Carson Chittom on

    @Marie: Two hours each way is a bit much. But, as someone who lives in a rural state where public transportation is all but nonexistent, I’ve definitely wondered about whether my life might actually be improved by a long commute on public transportation. I have small children; I love spending time with them and with my wife, and I do it as much as I can. But it’s often hard to find the also-necessary me-time, for me to recharge or just to have a spell with no demands on me. Right now, if I want that, I have to schedule it; having it built-in might well be helpful.

  7. posted by Tammy on

    The segment from the article makes it sound like it is a problem because it causes the other partner, usually the wife, to take on less desireable work. I don’t think that is the problem so much as the time spent apart and less quality time with the family and more quality time with coworkers or other people who might come in the way of those relationships. I am glad to see some commenters say it works for them, but I have seen this happen multiple times in my own family. Especially when people take on high paying jobs in a different state and they only come home on the weekends – my husband and I have decided that we would never ever consider doing that in a million years, even if we were offered millions of dollars. I’d rather be poor and happy together :)

  8. posted by Jen on

    I agree with those who have said that the actual length of the commute should be measured more in time than in distance, since they are not necessarily correlated, especially depending on the region. However, the research apparently found that longer commutes also led to more job/career advancement – something that often comes with working longer hours. I wonder if that is also contributing to the demise of some of the marriages. Now, since this study was done in Sweden, I can’t be sure how true that is, since their attitudes toward work are very different from those in the US. My understanding is that it’s not typical for Swedes (and other Europeans) to work 80-hr weeks and forgo vacations the way Americans do. Still, there might be some correlation there.

  9. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    Hey everyone. There originally was a mistake in the first version of the article, I multiplied 30 km by 1.6 instead of divided. Lovely. Anyway, it is fixed. Approximately 19 miles is the correct number.

  10. posted by Dave on

    I recently gave up my car and now commute on the city bus, which takes twice as long. I’d take my hour long bus journey spent reading or talking to my neighbors over my previous 30 stressful minutes behind the wheel any day!

  11. posted by L. on

    Interesting article, but what does it have to do with uncluttering?

  12. posted by Egirl on

    This info probably worked well for a dissertation but it seems too narrow in scope for real life — too many variables not considered.

  13. posted by Rob on

    My thought is if you work in the city, live in the city. I live within the loop here in Houston and don’t have to even get on a freeway to get to work/school/anywhere I really want to go. Traffic here is terrible, but traffic anywhere is terrible so I avoid it at all costs. I had coworkers that spent almost 4 hours in the car everyday. They were not the happiest people. School is now so close that I can bike, if it would every dip below 90 degrees :)

  14. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @L — Clutter is any distraction that gets in the way of a remarkable life. Clutter isn’t only physical stuff — in fact, physical clutter is usually the least of people’s problems with clutter. Mental clutter, emotional clutter, time management problems, etc., are usually more difficult hurdles to overcome.

    A long commute can keep someone from pursing the life of his dreams, which sounds exactly like clutter to me.

  15. posted by Babs on

    “But women and men benefit in different degrees, with income increasing more for long-distance commuting men.”

    Why would that be true?

  16. posted by EngineerMom on

    I agree with other comments that it is the TIME, not the distance, that matters in a commute. I decided a long time ago that I will arrange my life to avoid a commute over 30 minutes for me or my husband. We managed this well when we were both working, and now that I’m a SAHM, we just look for housing close to his job.

    I’d rather live in a smaller house and homeschool my kids (not that that’s an issue yet – the oldest isn’t quite 3) than live way out in the suburbs and expect DH to spend 2 hours a day in the car, away from us and not contributing to his work.

  17. posted by *pol on

    My work is 35 steps from the kitchen… but I have to go to the school with the kids and come back before I can begin. My commute is sweeeeet!

  18. posted by laura m. on

    Now retired, both of us worked, lived in different areas in the south east, to incl his 20 yrs military service some overseas. Some of our jobs both of us had long commutes, worked overtime too. We never wanted to raise a family as from the 70’s on most women had to work to make ends meet (two income families,)and kids were expensive and demanded time. We’re now glad we chose this lifestyle, as most my peers are still working; perhaps into their 70’s having to pay for college, etc. We retired in our early 60’s.

  19. posted by Mike on

    The long commute sucks. 27 miles each way. Maybe half of that is at freeway speeds, the rest ON the freeway but stuck in traffic congestion.

    If I wasn’t on track to retire in 2025 with a full pension (government), I would not stick to it. No way.

    It sounds bad to say that I’m going to be commuting 54 miles a day until 2025, but it sounds even worse to get something in the private sector where I’d have to do the same thing, or near enough, for ten more years beyond that.

    I spend what time I can on the weekends with my wife and kids… even if it’s something they don’t really need me for. Being there makes it better.

  20. posted by Dana on

    I would be curious to know whether the same statistics would apply to childfree couples, since the main base of the research subjects seemed to have slighted one partner’s career growth in order to take care of children.

    Also, as one commenter pointed out, I think it might be a little different in the US (and particularly here in SoCal), because our attitudes about driving are a bit different — distance vs. time and also urban sprawl. When you can drive across the entire country in 4 hours like you can in Europe, the idea of 20 miles may seem like a long way.

    I would think, though, that any kind of commuting or work that takes excessive time away from the time you can spend with your spouse would certainly be an indicator of potential impending divorce.

  21. posted by Just Breathe on

    19 MILES!!! Good grief! In rural Texas, 30 miles might be a quick trip to the grocery store. My husband commutes around 58 miles each way to a metropolitan area M-F in 75-85 mph traffic, with vehicles being roughly 2 inches apart, on a highway noted as one of the most dangerous. It is horribly exhausting and stressful for him, but (to answer one of the commenters above), he probably makes at least $45,000 more per year, with much better benefits, than if he worked in our smaller town. He leaves by 5:45 a.m. in order to beat a lot of the traffic, or it would take him forever. That means that he has to be in bed no later than 11 p.m. He normally gets home by 5:30, but if there is a wreck or construction on the interstate, it might be 7-8 p.m.

  22. posted by Just Breathe on

    Oh, and he would LOVE having a high-speed rail trip, instead of having to drive. He could nap or read, and possibly not have white knuckles by the time he arrived for the day’s work. But that won’t be available in our lifetimes.

  23. posted by Availle on

    I had to commute to school for 9 years when I was a teen. Every day by bus, first 15 minutes to middle school, then 30 minutes to high school, and I thoroughly hated it.

    Now that I can choose where to live with respect to my work, the longest commute was 30 minutes (walking + bus) and the shortest one a 10 minute walk. It’s all about choices we make.

    I find it very interesting that so many people commenting here don’t like the amount of time they spend commuting, but only one (EngineerMom) considers moving to a place closer to work.

    A little remark to Dana: “When you can drive across the entire country in 4 hours like you can in Europe…” Not every country over here is as small as the Netherlands or Belgium. Have fun crossing Germany or France in 4 hours… ;-)

  24. posted by Paul on

    I’m not sure about the conclusions here, but then I did spend about 8 years doing a weekly commute of 150 miles each way, and spending 3 or 4 nights every week staying away from home. My partner and I are still together – some might say that absence makes the heart grow fonder!

    My longest commute was an hour each way, while staying away from home. To be honest the combination nearly drove me mad – get up on Monday morning at 4:30 to hit the road before 6am to avoid rush hour going toward London, arrive at digs at say 8:30, park the car, walk 10 minutes to the commuter train station, half an hour on the train and then a 10 minute tube journey to the office. Then an hour travelling each way to somewhere which wasn’t home during the week, then a 4 hour journey home properly at the weekend. After 8 months of that I was nearly toast! Thankfully I then managed to find somewhere to stay much closer to the office than the original digs my employers had put me in and things settled down somewhat…

    I think commutes longer than about 40 minutes each way should probably be considered cruel and unusual punishment and banned under the Geneva Convention rules. Even when done on public transport they eat away at people’s lives – in the example above I was working long hours as well and there was never time to actually have a life during the week, so I ended up very tired and depressed and actually got so bad-tempered I’m lucky my other half didn’t get fed up with me and leave!

    Before that I was lucky enough to work flexible hours with a different employer – as long as I was in the office for 10am all was fine. I used to leave home at 9:15 and get to work at 9:55. One manager tried to insist I had to be at the office for 9:00am but that would have meant negotiating rush hour and at least double the travel time morning and evening. I got in for 8:00 every day for a week and then dropped back to 10:00 and strangely not a word was said… it had nothing to do with any rational reasoning but was all about that manager exerting control.

  25. posted by JustGail on

    Interesting. My commute is 40 miles, which takes me 45 minutes. No public transportation is available. Financially it’s worth the commute, but yes, I do envy those who can leave work and be home in 10-15 minutes. The husband has a commute of about 4 minutes.

    As far as trying to be “gree” about it – I gave carpooling a shot a couple of years ago. Unless it’s with someone who works in the same building, I think I’d rather rent a room during the week. Carpooling added at least an hour to the commuting time every day. Not to mention the lack of flexibility in being able to work a bit later or run errands on short notice.

  26. posted by christa on

    I find this extremely sexist. Who says it’s the woman who has to take care of the family and children…or even if there are any at all? I drive 33 miles (one way) to work every day, make more than twice what my husband does, and we have no children. What about that? Are “family” stressors (which in this article I take to mean kids) the only stress that a long commute creates? What about together time with your spouse?

    I know a couple who has two kids and the husband stays home to take care of them because the wife is literally a rocket scientist.

    They need to wake up. It’s 2011.

  27. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @christa — You should read the dissertation. It’s not sexist. It includes data about what happens when women make long commutes and their male partners don’t.

  28. posted by Mynahbird on

    I’m a woman who commutes 50 miles to London most days; my husband does not work and stays at home to look after the children. Since the kids were born we have had every combination of part-time / full-time / maternity leave / both / only one working that you could imagine – and this is the best. I enjoy my job although it’s not incredibly well paid, and he hated communting – though is feeling somewhat frustrated with the househusband role.
    My commute is on the train, 1hr 15 mins door to door (I’ve avoided calculating the yearly amount). I use the time for daily planning; reading books, newspapers, research reports; try to meditate; pelvic floor exercises (try it without grimacing – men & women!); meditation (not very good at this yet); a manicure; texting; getting ahead for the day. I have a Mary Poppins bag with everything in it. I have found ways to make that time my own. And I’m trying to make use of flexi-time to do 9-day fortnights etc.
    On the downside, when I’m at home in the week, the kids are tired / grumpy / want a fight. My social life is in two halves, and I’m losing the social networks I build up when the kids were small and I was at home more. Yes – there’s more opportunities for meeting other people in the metropolis – and that’s one thing I enjoy and would really miss if at home all week in my pretty but small town.

  29. posted by Brigitte @ Clutter TOSS on

    I believe Americans are much more use to driving long distances. For me, it’s 15 minutes to the grocery store. When my German relatives came to visit us, we asked what they wanted to see. In the three weeks they had for vacation, they wanted to see FL, TX and CA. We had to explain that that was just not possible.

    However living in MI has been a challenge these last several years. For the last 4 years, my husband has taken contracts out of state since there was no work in MI. He has worked in WV, SC and AR. He would come home once a month and occasionally the kids and I would go visit him at his one bedroom apt. We have been lucky that we homeschool otherwise us visiting would have been impossible. The last 11 months he has been back home. My husband’s commute has been as long as an hour. Currently it is 30 min and he is thrilled.

    As for the out of state work affecting our marriage, I found it strengthen it. We got creative in communication through the use of Skype and texting. And the one weekend a month that he was home was focused on just visiting with each other and the kids. Now that he is home full time there is not the sense of urgency that we had when we were apart. Which has it’s pluses and minuses.

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