Like most things in life, long commutes have both negative and positive effects. However, it’s fair to say that the negatives outweigh the positives here.
It’s clear that long commutes are bad for the environment, particularly if you’re driving (and driving alone is even worse). Driving causes smog, nitrogen oxide and greenhouse gas emissions. The transportation sector contributes 28 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and half of this is from personal vehicles, according to the Appalachian Mountain Club.5
Long commutes are also expensive, not just for drivers but for the companies that employ them. A study published by the Harvard Business School focused on an inventor firm over a five-year period found that the opportunity cost of commuting may exceed the worker’s hourly wage, meaning workers were spending more to commute than they would make at work during the same time period.
Another factor for drivers is the price of gas. AAA found that, on average, driving gas-powered cars costs 17.99 cents per mile, with an average per gallon cost of $3.99 in 2022. Electric vehicles will also hit your wallet at a rate of 13.9 cents per kilowatt hour.6
Assuming your commute takes place in a car as it does for the majority of Americans, it could cause negative physical health effects, such as:
- Tightness in hip flexors
- Lower back pain
- Spine damage
- Worse cardiovascular health
- More exposure to pollution
- Less time to exercise
- Difficulty sleeping, which could lead to diabetes/obesity
Mental Health Impact
Long daily commutes can affect your mental health as well as your physical health. They’re known to increase stress, make it less likely you’ll want to drive for social purposes and decrease job satisfaction.7
However, an article published in Harvard Business Review noted some positive effects of commuting on one’s mental health. Commuting is a structured ritual that allows people to separate work from home, share the commuting experience with co-workers and prepare for the day. A drawback of working from home instead of commuting is the lack of separation between work and home life, which can lead to burnout.
Meanwhile, commuting may make people less productive workers. Remember that firm of inventors Harvard Business School studied? It found that commuting had an inverse relationship with productivity.
For every six miles a commute increased, there was a 5 percent decrease in the number of patents developed and a 7 percent decrease in their quality. The effects were even worse for inventors in the top 10 percent of their field.8
While there’s still more research needed on this topic, it’s generally agreed upon that although short commutes can have their benefits, long commutes are bad for the environment and the physical, mental and work health of commuters.