Longer commutes faced by those in areas with high unemployment

Workers in the UK commute for longer if they live in an area with higher unemployment — according to a new study from economics researchers Jennifer Roberts and Karl Taylor (University of Sheffield).

Men’s commute times are affected more by local unemployment than women’s, but women are affected more the greater the share of household income they contribute.

This recent study by Roberts and Taylor analysed commuting times in households where both partners work and found that the number of jobs available locally affected the commuting times of both men and women.

For a sample of nearly 6,000 couples in 2009 to 2014 a 10% increase in the local unemployment rate (the average increase across the Local Authorities over that period) means just over 4 minutes more commuting per week for men, and 2 minutes for women.

This adds 3 and a quarter hours travel time for men who already commute for around 169 hours per year. For women just under 2 hours are added to an existing annual commute of 145 hours.

The local labour market is important because poorer local job prospects force workers to travel further to seek a job, or to obtain better wages or working conditions. Different local labour markets provide different job opportunities for men and women. Some job markets are more female friendly than others, because of the type of industries and occupations that are present. The research shows that the more conducive the local labour market is to female employment opportunities, the less time women spend commuting.

Being unable to move house easily also seems to worsen the situation; homeowners, and particularly those with negative equity, commute for longer than people who rent their home. In addition analysis of couples who have recently moved suggests that home moves are chosen to suit the male earner and their commute, over the female.

Overall ‘dual earner’ households like these face a complex set of constraints on home and work location. The growth in the number of women in employment means an increase in ‘dual earner’ households, with the increased probability of longer average commuting times and the consequent of increased exposure to pollution, noise, congestion, health and wellbeing effects.

Further details can be found at:

Roberts J & Taylor K (2016) Intra-household commuting choices and local labour markets. Oxford Economic Papers [In Press] doi: 10.1093/oep/gpw037

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