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Women's mental health hit harder by daily commute

Chores and childcare are more likely to leave women struggling to cope with commuting to work than men, study finds
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Keith David Barnard
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23rd August 2011 - The pressures of a daily commute are more likely to take their toll on the psychological health of women than men, according to a study.

Researchers found that other duties like household tasks added to the pressures on women, even though they spent less time getting to and from work.

Daily grind to work

The length of time British workers spend commuting has increased over the last few years. In 1997, the average worker commuted for 48 minutes each day. By 2006, this had increased to 54 minutes, or 12% of a standard full-time working week.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield and the London School of Economics looked at data from working adults aged 18 to 65, taken from the British Household Panel Survey. Participants were asked questions including how long they spent commuting and were assessed for their psychological health using the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ score).

Women: Shorter commute

Women were found to commute less than men, spending around four minutes less for each journey. They were also found to work shorter hours - an average of 29 hours each week, compared to 38 hours for men. However, the researchers conclude that women's "psychological health is adversely affected by commuting while men’s, generally, is not".

The authors, led by Professor Jennifer Roberts from the University of Sheffield, explore some of the possibilities for this discrepancy. "We suggest that it is women’s greater responsibility for day to day household tasks (including childcare and housework) that makes them more sensitive to time spent commuting," they write.

Housework and childcare

They say that previous research has found that women bear the main burden of responsibility for household chores even when they have paid jobs. They suggest that women combine their daily commute with "multiple stops for things such as childcare pick-up and drop-off and food shopping", and that this multi-tasking may "explain the greater adverse effects on psychological health".

Roberts and colleagues say that the psychological stress from commuting may decrease for women as their status in the labour market improves and men take on a more equal role in doing household tasks and looking after children.

However, the authors warn that while women have many more opportunities today than in the past, recent research has indicated that their happiness levels are declining in comparison to men's. They say this may be because "increased opportunity comes at the price of increased guilt arising from the feeling that you simply cannot do everything".

The study appears in the Journal of Health Economics.

Reviewed on August 23, 2011

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