Driving to Divorce

According to a recent study published by Erika Sandow of the Umeå University in northern Sweden, a long commute to work can enhance job prospects and provide other economic benefits but it could also increase the commuter’s risk of divorce by up to 40%. The Umeå study was based on statistics collected from over two million Swedish households between 1995 and 2000.

Study author Sandow said in her dissertation that long-distance commuting delivers more benefits for men than women because the commuting reduces the overall amount of time spent with the family and the non-commuting spouse will often have to shoulder a larger share of the household duties. In those families where the husband is the commuter, the wife will take a less financially rewarding job closer to home in order to be able to devote more time to the responsibilities of raising children and managing a household. The study did find that while women who are willing to commute to jobs often have better salaries and career prospects, the female commuters will typically experience more stress and feel less successful career-wise than men who regularly commute long distances.

The Umeå University study found that only about 11% of Swedes commute for 45 minutes or longer. The study also found that most of them were married men with small children. Erika Sandow reported that “To be able to commute to work can be a positive thing because it means you don’t have to uproot your family with every career move but it can also be a strain on your relationship.” After the numbers were crunched, it appears that strain on relationships also equals an astounding 40% greater risk of ending up divorced in Sweden.

Sandow added that more Swedes are spending more time commuting to work and that both the commutes and the working hours are getting longer every year. Sandow also pointed to the fact that the true social costs of long distance commutes are often overlooked when people consider the financial aspects alone and said “We don’t know today what the increase in commuting will mean to society in the long run and it is important to look at the social costs involved as well.”

Sandow explained that the risk of divorce is usually the greatest in the first few years of commuting and that more than half of all long-distance commuters have done it for at least five years. The five year mark becomes important as most commuters and their spouses and families showed that they had somewhat learned to deal with the situation at that time. However, Sandow also admitted that weaker relationships can’t take that kind of strain in the first place and added that “One of the long-term risks with commuting is that it can sustain gender-based stereotypes both at home and in the labor market.”

If commutes over 45 minutes are a problem and divorce risk for the Swedes, it does not hold much promise for the legions of U.S. commuters who routinely spend hours sitting in their cars in traffic on the way to work and back everyday. Considering that it is not uncommon for U.S. commuters to spend an hour and a half just getting to work one way, their risk of divorce could be exponentially higher than that of the Swedish 45-minute commuters.