Commuting and Personal Well-being, 2014

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This article examines the relationship between commuting to work and personal well-being using regression analysis. It identifies how time spent commuting and method of travel affect life satisfaction, a sense that our daily activities are worthwhile, and levels of happiness and anxiety.
12 February 2014
Office for National Statistics | 1
Commuting and Personal Well-being, 2014
This article examines the relationship between commuting to work and personal well-being
using regression analysis. It identifies how time spent commuting and method of travel affect life
satisfaction, a sense that our daily activities are worthwhile, and levels of happiness and anxiety.
1. Introduction
This article examines the relationship between commuting to work and personal well-being, and
builds on earlier work published by ONS (ONS 2013a) which identified some of the personal
characteristics and circumstances that matter most to personal well-being. Although that analysis
included a wide range of factors thought to be related to personal well-being such as age, ethnicity,
sex, self-reported health, relationship status, and economic activity, it did not look in detail at
people’s experiences of commuting.
Previous studies have found commuting to be negatively related to aspects of personal well-
being such as life satisfaction (Stutzer and Frey 2008) or to wider measures of mental health and
well-being (Robert, Hodgson and Dolan 2009). However, there are also benefits associated with
commuting. In theory, a person chooses to commute (and thereby accepts the burden of doing so)
when he/she is compensated, for example in the labour market by higher earnings or better career
prospects or in the housing market by cheaper rents/mortgages or a nicer home further away from
the job.
Using the relative size and strength of the relationship between commuting and personal well-being
when other possible influences on well-being are held constant, this article specifically examines:
Commuting compared with non-commuting
Usual time spent commuting
Method of travel.
2. Key Points
Holding all else equal, 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-
The worst effects of commuting on personal well-being were associated with journey times
lasting between 61 and 90 minutes. On average, all four aspects of personal well-being were
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Office for National Statistics | 2
negatively affected by commutes of this duration when compared to those travelling only 15
minutes or less to work.
When commuting time reaches three hours or more, the 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.
Combining both travel method used and the length of time spent commuting showed that taking
the bus or coach to work on a journey lasting more than 30 minutes was the most negative
commuting option in personal well-being terms.
The effects of more active forms of commuting such as cycling and walking on personal well-
being varied with the amount of time spent travelling in these ways.
3. Research Methods
This article presents the results of regression analysis, a statistical technique which analyses how
responses to personal well-being questions vary by specific characteristics and circumstances of
individuals while holding all other characteristics equal. The key benefit of regression analysis is that
it provides a better method of identifying those factors which matter most to personal well-being than
an analysis looking at the relationship between only two characteristics at a time.
3.1 Key definitions
The analysis is based on data from a subgroup of the Annual Population Survey (APS) comprised
of people in employment collected from April 2012 to March 2013. It includes both employees and
self-employed people. To identify those who did not commute, people were asked if they ‘work from
home in [their] main job?’ Those who said they work in their own home or in the same grounds or
buildings as home were considered to be non-commuters and were included in the analysis. Those
who said they worked in different places using home as a base or that they worked somewhere
quite different from home were excluded from the analysis as they may still spend an undetermined
amount of time travelling for work-related activities.
Another question asking about travel time from home to work one-way was used to identify
commuters. Anyone who said they spent one minute or more travelling to work was defined as a
The final sample included approximately 60,200 respondents of whom 91.5% were classified as
commuters and 8.5% were classified as non-commuters. Full details of sample sizes for all variables
included in the analysis are available in Reference Table 5 (62.5 Kb Excel sheet).
It is important to note that these questions may not perfectly capture the situation of people who
regularly work from home part of the week and travel only on specific days or who live and work
away for periods and only travel at the beginning and end of their working period. The data available
do not allow us to look in detail at these types of commuting patterns.
In order to look at how personal well-being varies in relation to individual commuting patterns, we
used the following four questions on personal well-being which are asked each year in the APS:
Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
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Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?
Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?
Respondents are asked to give their answers on a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 is ‘not at all’ and 10 is
3.2 The regression models
The analysis included the development of several alternative models to investigate the relationship
between commuting and personal well-being. Different models were used to capture the different
aspects of commuting, for example:
Commuters versus non-commuters (does not include actual travel time or travel mode)
Commuting time in minutes (from 1 to 179 minutes)
Commuting time in banded time periods
Travel mode only (without travel time)
Travel mode and travel time (defined as 1-15 minutes, 16-30 minutes or more than 30
minutes) included together to explore interaction effects between travel method and time spent
All the models included:
Age (defined both as age and age squared)
• Sex
• Ethnicity
Migration (length of time since migrating to the UK)
Relationship status
Presence of dependent and non-dependent children in the household
Self-reported disability
Self-reported health
Interview mode (telephone or face-to-face interview)
Economic activity status (permanent employee, non-permanent or self-employed)
Religious affiliation
UK region
Reference tables with the coefficients from each of the models are available via links in the
Technical Annex.
3.3 Interpreting what the numbers mean
The numbers included throughout the text and tables are the unstandardised coefficients for each
variable included in the Ordinary Least Squares regression models. This shows the size of the
effect that the characteristic being explored has on the specific aspect of personal well-being under
In interpreting the findings, it is important to remember that these numbers represent the difference
between two groups, for example those who do not commute compared to a reference group of
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those who do, when all other variables in the model have been held constant. The comparisons are
therefore between two people who are otherwise the same in every respect apart from the particular
characteristic or circumstance being considered. This helps to isolate the effects of the characteristic
or experience being considered, in this case commuting, on personal well-being.
In order to give a sense of the size of the relationship between each characteristic included in the
model and personal well-being, we have used the following size classification:
Large - a difference of 1.0 points or more between the average rating of the reference group and
the group being studied after controlling for other factors
Moderate - 0.5 points < 1.0 points difference between the groups
Small - 0.1 points < 0.5 points difference between the groups
Very small - a difference of less than 0.10 points but which is still statistically significant.
The classifications summarise the size of the difference between how an individual with the
characteristic or experience being considered, for example a specific commuting time, would rate
their well-being compared to someone from a specified reference group, all else being equal.
When results are referred to as ‘significant at the 5% level’, this means there is a probability of less
than 0.05 (or less than one in twenty) that the result could have occurred by chance.
4. Does commuting matter to personal well-being?
Commuting can be regarded as a burden. However, individuals may choose to commute if
compensated for doing so (for example by higher income or a larger house). This analysis explores
whether all the burdens of commuting are indeed fully compensated by such factors1. If they are,
then we would not expect to see any statistically significant associations between commuting and
personal well-being in the tables and figures that follow.
The analysis clearly indicates an association between commuting and personal well-being after
controlling for a range of individual characteristics2. The remaining sections of the report compare
the experiences of those who commute to work with those who do not and the relationship of
commuting with personal well-being. They also look at the personal well-being of those who
commute for different periods of time. Results are then interpreted along with suggestions as to why
individuals may choose to commute to work even though they may not be fully compensated for the
burden of doing so.
4.1 Commuting versus non-commuting
Comparing the personal well-being of those who regularly travel to work (commuters) versus those
who work from home in their main job (non-commuters), Figure 1 shows that commuters were on
less satisfied with their lives,
rated their daily activities as less worthwhile, and
reported less happiness and higher anxiety than non-commuters.
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Office for National Statistics | 5
The reference group in Figure 1 are commuters and they 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, after holding all else equal.
Figure 1: How the personal well-being of commuters and non-commuters differs after
controlling for individual characteristics
United Kingdom
Source: Annual Population Survey (APS) - Office for National Statistics
1. Commuters are the reference group 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, after holding all
else equal.
2. All of the findings in Figure 1 are statistically significant at the 5% level.
Download chart
XLS format
(27.5 Kb)
The effects of commuting on personal well-being were greatest for anxiety and happiness,
suggesting that commuting affects day to day emotions more than overall evaluations of satisfaction
with life or the sense that daily activities are worthwhile.
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