Commuters These Days

Extreme commuters assume that the trade-off of the commute is worth the benefits of a better salary. This is not necessarily true.
Carsi Hughes Ph.D.

Recently I’ve received many questions from prospective employees as they grappled with the possibility of taking on a job far from where they live. They were not planning on moving closer to their new job; rather, they were considering 1, 2 or 3 hour commute times (one-way) by either car or airplane. Considering I am someone who literally lives, works, and plays within one mile of my house, I didn’t feel like I was in a good position to comment. After some research, I’ve discovered that long commutes, often out of state, are not as aberrant, as I suspected.

First, a bit on commuting. nearly 10 million people now drive more than an hour each way to work. This statistic is up 50% from 1990. The average commute today is 25 minutes, up 18 percent from 20 years ago. Nine out of 10 people commute to work by car. It is estimated that 50% of new workers leave their home counties for their jobs, up from 24% estimated in 1990. New labels have sprung up to describe those who travel more than 90 minutes to work, one-way. Terms include "megacommuters" "supercommuters", "extreme commuters" and "sleepover commuters" (those who work one place during the week and come home on the weekends).

So why commute? The number one reason is money. Most people are willing to tack on a long commute for a better paying job. With more money they can live in more exclusive areas and generally have a higher standard of living overall. In addition, these workers often have flexible schedules, but the primary reason people state for being extreme commuters is money.

Before you quit your local job and apply for that high paying one a couple states over, let’s look a little closer at the real financial picture. There is something that economists call "the commuting paradox." Extreme commuters assume that the trade-off of the commute is worth the benefits of a better salary. This is not necessarily true. First, studies show that extreme commuters are much less satisfied with their lives than lesser commuters, or noncommuters. In addition, a commuter who travels merely one hour, one way, would have to make 40% more than his or her current salary to be as fully satisfied with life as a noncommuter. Why is this? In general, people over-estimate the value of things that the extreme commute will get them and they underestimate what they are losing.

What exactly are are they losing? Extreme commuters have been shown to lose social connections (it has been estimated that for every 10 minutes of commuting time, one’s social connections are decreased by 10%) hobbies, and even health. Specifically, commuting is associated with high blood pressure, musculoskeletal disorders, increased hostility (especially road rage), lateness, absenteeism, and cognitive decline.

I realize that all my research has painted a rather grim picture of extreme commuting. Although I was able to find case studies about various workers who extremely commute, some of them more satisfied than others, I was unable to find a single example of a mental health professional engaging in extreme commuting. If any of you out there are megacommuters or extreme commuters or sleepover commuters (perhaps you’re reading this on your flight to work?) I’d love to hear you story. Meanwhile, I’ll be within walking distance of my house, organizing information for the Placement Services.

If you are looking for work and would like job leads, consultation, or other assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me at

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