Limited local opportunities, expanded job markets and better value housing further from city centres are prompting more and more people to undertake longer commutes. Factoring in the career of a spouse or partner, slumps in housing markets making it difficult to sell or rent property, as well as issues impacting kid’s educations, commuting rapidly becomes the most viable option in a range of other poorer choices. Extreme commuting is growing.
Whether by plane, car, train or any other form of transport commuting is consistently listed as one of the bug bears of modern life. Recent research in Sweden from Erica Sandhow at Umeå University, on the impact of commuting, suggests that 45 minutes could be considered a long commute. However, in the US a typical commute would be 50 minutes while the British commuter spends 200 hours a year getting to work. Although there are a number of benefits from an increased number of career opportunities, there are also significant downsides, with Sandhow suggesting that couples engaged in commutes longer than 45 minutes are 40% more likely to get divorced.
Just the mildest of enquiries in my social circle produced the feeling that long distance commuting is more commonplace than these stats would suggest. In fact most believed that average commutes are taking increasingly longer as congestion is most towns is rising and 45 minutes elapsed time door to desk was actually on the light side.
Yet many choose to commute not into their local city, but internationally.
During a recent trip out of Malpensa airport I found myself in conversation with an Italian gentleman, Fabio, who was negotiating the security line with all the frequent flier finesse of George Clooney in “Up in the Air”. He works in international business development for an Italian conglomerate and was headed, not the 25 minutes typical Italian commute down the road, but 700 kms back home to Brussels. Fabio was quick to let me know why he has decided to live apart from his family Monday to Friday.
“When I was offered a senior role back in Italy 3 years ago, it was a tough decision. On the one hand I had a great promotion but on the other I also had to factor in my wife’s career. She is British and an E.U. lobbyist, so needs to be Brussels based, as well as my children’s education. They are 16, 14 and 10 – so not great for the older ones to move. We speak English at home and the kids go to Belgian schools so they only have conversational Italian. So as I travelled 80% of my week at that time anyway – the logical solution was to find a pied à terre Monday to Thursday in Milan and commute between Belgium and Italy“.
I have been in that situation myself twice when my ex-husband commuted internationally, in the days before cheap flights and speedy boarding. It’s not easy. Fabio continued ” When I’m not on the road I can work from home but obviously I need to be in Milan a couple of days a week at least. Technology helps and I’m lucky that my General Manager is a results orientated rather than presence orientated manager, but when you run a team being visible and available is important.”
o what are the downsides as if I didn’t know already. “When flights are delayed or cancelled – that’s a hassle. My wife struggles sometimes dealing with my 16 year old son on her own and feels isolated. It means if she needs to travel for her own work we have complex childcare arrangements as we don’t have family in Belgium. Hikes in fares means that it’s high cost too. But overall it’s the best decision for our family“
Women super commuters
Erica Sandhow’s findings show that extended commutes primarily benefit the careers of men and also contribute to polarised gender stereotyping with women assuming a greater share of domestic responsibilities in the absence of the men, while their partners become the de facto more significant salary earner. I can certainly testify to that.
If a high number of super commuters are men, what about women?
I miss my kids probably more than they miss me and have some sad moments when I can’t make an event or something is going on in their lives which I can’t be there for.
I spoke to Hannah who commutes between Paris and Amsterdam, leaving two children on Sunday evening or Monday morning, with her husband Markus until Friday night. “Yes it’s stressful but you get used to it. I find that I have to separate my work and personal life, but as the main salary earner in the family, I have to pay the mortgage and the bills. I am 16 years younger than my husband and will have to work for another 18 years at least. I miss my kids probably more than they miss me and have some sad moments when I can’t make an event or something is going on in their lives which I can’t be there for. My husband wishes I had more time, especially if I ever have to work at the weekend”
At the same time, it is reported that those fewer women who do commute long distances gain new career opportunities and higher salaries – so there are some benefits.
But are they worth it?
So how long would you commute to work?
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I move from home to job with 1 hour drive to go (75 km) and 1 hour to go back. To work 8 hours I need 10! It’s really tyring. But if you like your job you do it and the extra time is very useful for thinking and getting new ideas. Family is important and work is important too. You have to find the best compromize. Taking into account only one thing could make your life more complex than more simplified. Of course if the job interest goes down is more easy to switch.
After being made redundant in 2005 from a company local to where I live, I was offered a great opportunity in a town some 36 miles away. The commute takes anything between 40 minutes on a good day to 1h 10m on a bad day. The record is 6 hours; but that’s another story. Naturally, I have to allow a similar amount of time to get back home at the end of the day.
I think, after seven years of commuting in that way, if I were to have a job where I could crawl out of bed at 8am and be at work at 8.30 I would miss the travel time – I use it to listen to a talk radio station and think about how to deal with issues that have arisen at work – like a wind-up/down time.
Over the coming weeks I will be allowed to work one day from home; it will be interesting to see how this pans out… will the time at home be beneficial, or do I need the commute time to get ready for work? Time will tell.
Thanks Matt. I think in many places a 40 minute commute would be considered quite acceptable. I used to use commuting time for thinking and reading (not while I was driving!) but there are some commutes, international ones for example, which can present many challenges!
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I commute 43 miles one way. Normally takes me about an hour to get there provided I leave by 5:30 a.m. and then 1 hour to 1 hour and 45 minutes provided I leave the office by 4:00 p.m. A wreck or broken down car can change those times dramatically. I really love my job so that makes it worth it. Some days though I really wish I had a private helicopter! The 43 miles isn’t really the bad part. It’s the 5 million people I have to pass to get there and back!
Thanks Liz for your comment. I’m sure there are many who would share your wish for a private helicopter to by pass traffic!
Great article! My book on the topic, Super Commuter Couples: Staying Together When A Job Keeps You Apart is a resource to help navigate the extra types of stress your article addresses. As a therapist with this specialty and the wife of a super commuter, I can attest to the negative and positive aspects this ever more common situation. Looking forward to following your blog!
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People responding to this article need to realize that 45 miles one way is not a super commute! 90 mile plus is the minimum to qualify as a super commute. I’m interviewing for a great job right now 114 miles one way from my house. I live in Palm Desert, CA and the position is in Newport Beach. I’m married with no kids and we own and live in our beautiful home. I will not give up a home just for a job. Fortunately my portion of the mortgage is low, freeing up a budget for me to rent a tiny place in Orange County during the week. If I get this job, I will drive home on a Friday after work and drive back to Orange County on a Sunday night. My occupation as a commercial interior designer & project manager is a niche where opportunities are found in large firms in LA and Orange County but defenitely very little in Riverside County where I live. Great article by the way! Thanks for posting it.
I think time is the key element. 45 miles is not long on an open road but if it takes 2 hours in a massive traffic jam then it is.