10 minutes of commuting time, one's social connections get cut by 10%

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%. Imagine what that means when it's not a matter of minutes but hours.

New article from Business Week on Extreme Commuting. More workers are willing to travel three hours a day. But what is the long-term cost?

For the last leg of their five- and sometimes six-hour, door-to-door commutes, the working moms who call themselves the "Bus Buddies" of the Adirondack Trailways' Red Line run usually talk about one thing: How can I get off this thing? How to end the exhausting odyssey from New York state towns such as New Paltz and Woodstock, waking up at 5, 4, and even 3 a.m. to board a smelly long-hauler to Manhattan, where the salaries are 70% more? On the trip home, the Bus Buddies bring out their neck rolls to avoid "commuter nod" and use their pashminas as blankets, brainstorming exit strategies over the dueling aromas of Chinese food and Kentucky Fried Chicken. When a Bus Buddy does manage to leave behind her seat — such as Jennifer Pickurel, who traded in a big finance job for one at the local Chamber of Commerce — the Bus Buddies erupt into applause. "We're jealous," says Terry Rust, a broadcast TV business manager who lives in New Paltz. "But we cheer them on and say: 'Yeah, you made it. You're off the bus."'

This is what economists call "the commuting paradox." 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. 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.

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