"Most people travel long distances with the idea that they'll accept the burden for something better, be it a house, salary, or school. They presume the trade-off is worth the agony. But studies show that commuters are on average much less satisfied with their lives than noncommuters," says a Business Week article on so-called "extreme commuters" -- people who travel 90 minutes or more each week to work. (I noted a USA Today article on the subject in a December post).
"A commuter who travels one hour, one way, would have to make 40% more than his current salary to be as fully satisfied with his life as a noncommuter, say economists Bruno S. Frey and Alois Stutzer of the University of Zurich's Institute for Empirical Research in Economics. People usually overestimate the value of the things they'll obtain by commuting -- more money, more material goods, more prestige -- and underestimate the benefit of what they are losing: social connections, hobbies, and health. 'Commuting is a stress that doesn't pay off,' says Stutzer."
And the problems go far beyond cranky, stressed-out workers. Society pays, too. "The costs of commuting -- in gas, congestion, pollution, sprawl -- are high," the article notes, adding that long commutes are "associated with raised blood pressure, musculoskeletal disorders, increased hostility, lateness, absenteeism, and adverse effects on cognitive performance. Harvard University public policy professor Robert D. Putnam, author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, says that for every 10 minutes of commuting time, one's social connections get cut by 10%."