About Commuting & Wellbeing

Do people with long commutes become less satisfied with life over time? If so why? How does the commute mode (driving, taking the train) influence this?

The notion of ‘wellbeing’ has become an increasingly important issue for governments across the world where it is recognised that measures of economic growth do not necessarily reflect quality of life. In 2010 the UK government initiated a programme of wellbeing measurement to identify factors that influence wellbeing.

Wellbeing refers to the extent to which people’s lives are going well and is most often measured subjectively by asking people to evaluate their own lives – for example, through questions such as “How satisfied are you with life overall?”.

Recent research has shown that different aspects of personal wellbeing can be affected by commuting e.g. Long commutes may worsen wellbeing by consuming time that workers would rather spend on family and social activities. However, there is little evidence to date, of how different commuting behaviours impact on personal wellbeing over the medium term, for example, over a period of five years.


The Commuting and Wellbeing project used longitudinal data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) to address this gap in understanding and to answer three research questions:

  1. What specific aspects of wellbeing (e.g. satisfaction with leisure time, feeling constantly under strain) are related to commuting and how do personal and spatial characteristics affect this?
  2. How do different commuting behaviours influence the development of wellbeing over time? and
  3. How do changes in life situation (e.g. moving home, changing jobs) and commuting behaviours influence personal wellbeing over time?

The UKHLS offered a valuable data resource to help us to address these questions. Adult members of 40,000 households have been surveyed every year since 2009/10 and information on commuting (mode, distance and time) and wellbeing (e.g. life satisfaction, health, BMI) has been recorded. The first six waves of this data set (2009/10 to 2015/16) were used to identify how the commuting behaviours of employed people  changed over this period and to examine the impact of this on different aspects of wellbeing.

For further information about the study, please see the project briefing sheet.