Another negative impact of long commutes

We already know that long commutes cause…


And divorce

and unhappiness.

Well today we have another negative impact to add to the list. NPR reports that long commutes negatively impact people’s political engagement. The theory is that after long commutes people are so exhausted and beat down from the slog to work that their ability to engage their community politically and be politically active dramatically decreases . To add insult to injury, research shows this concerning impact only affects low income commuters.

INSKEEP: Are all people affected the same way by this stress?

VEDANTAM: So this is a really important point, Steve, because it turns out that even though there’s a general connection between political engagement and commuting, the effect is not experienced evenly by everyone. Commuting disproportionately seems to cause the poor to disengage from politics. And as we go up the income ladder, the effects that commuting have on political engagement actually decrease until we get to the very wealthy, where the longer your commute, the more likely you are to be politically engaged.

INSKEEP: Why would that be? You’re saying that wealthy people may well have a stressful commute, but somehow they can handle it better and have enough excess capacity, excess energy for politics.

VEDANTAM: So here’s what Johnson and the other researchers think is going on. Commuting is stressful for everyone, but the poor find it harder to buffer themselves against the effects of the stress. When you’re well off, you come home from a terrible day, you can go out for dinner. You can buy yourself a treat. When you’re poor, you have less access to those kinds of safety nets.

In fact, the researchers think that richer Americans might spend their commuting time engaging with politics, listening to the news, which is why for the richer Americans, the more time you spend commuting, the more engaged you get with politics.


So add political activism and engagement onto the long and growing list of why we need affordable housing close to jobs and more transit, not less, across the United States.

More at and I also have to wonder if long transit commutes are less negatively impactful in this realm as driving commutes as transit riders can use that time to read (the news or novels), sleep, and relax in a way that drivers can’t. Thoughts?

Click here for the full study.


The authors don’t dig into the mode differences deeply between driving and transit commuters. They do however hypothesize that because higher income transit commuters are more likely to engage in political activity (reading twitter, the news, blogs etc) during long transit commutes than lower income commuters, which could explain one reason why political engagement does not fall off for high-income long time span commuters.

Also this section from their conclusion is particularly poignant and makes the case that political parties and voter engagement advocates should support transit and smart growth.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.