Father’s Lengthy Work Commute Linked to Emotional Distress in Children

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Jianghong Li, Senior Scientist (PhD)
From the President’s Project Group, WZB Berlin Social Science Center
(Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung GmbH: www.wzb.eu)
Reichpietschufer 50, 10785 Berlin, Germany

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Dr. Jianghong Li: Commuting to work is a common phenomenon in developed countries. In the US full-time wage workers residing in urban counties on average commuted about 55 minutes to work. In the UK, workers commuted 42 minutes (round trip) for work in 2008. German workers commute 13 kilometers and 44 minutes both ways to work on average. The average daily commuting time for work in other European countries ranges from 29 minutes in Portugal to 51 minutes in Hungary. To make your commute a little easier, why not try the Moovit app with its handy tracking tools such as the metro map. Men commute longer than women to work and working fathers commute further to work than working mothers. Men who are employed full-time and with children commute longer than their counterparts without children, regardless of the age of the youngest child.

Previous research has shown that long commuting to workplace is associated with reduced civic participation and social interactions, lower life satisfaction, elevated stress hormone and reduced task performance, and increased risk for marriage breakdown. Daily experiences of unreliable transport, conflicting time schedules, congested roads and crowded trains contribute to commuters’ physical and psychological stress.

These health and psychosocial consequences of commuting raise a concern about its plausible negative impact on children’s well-being. Yet, there was no inquiry about the effect of commuting on children’s well-being, except one small-scale study in the US of mothers leaving welfare for employment.

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

Dr. Jianghong Li: Using the German Socio-Economic Panel study (SOEP), our study aimed to answer the question: Is fathers’ commute to work associated with increases in child social and emotional well-being as measured in Strengths & Difficulties Questionnaires? If so, would this association be mediated by reduced time spent with children or moderated by change in family income due to commuting? The findings show that fathers’ daily commute to work was associated with more peer relationship problems, and it also appeared to be linked to more emotional symptoms and greater hyperactivity in children. Fathers’ weekly commute was also linked to child emotional problems. The likelihood of having peer relationship problems in children increased with the distance of fathers’ daily commute to work. Symptoms of emotional problems are being unhappy, sad or tearful, and examples for peer relationship problems include being solitary, preferring to play alone and being bullied by other children.

Using the German Socio-Economic Panel study (SOEP), our study aimed to answer the question: Is fathers’ commute to work associated with increases in child social and emotional well-being as measured in Strengths & Difficulties Questionnaires? If so, would this association be mediated by reduced time spent with children or moderated by change in family income due to commuting? The findings show that fathers’ daily commute to work was associated with more peer relationship problems, and it also appeared to be linked to more emotional symptoms and greater hyperactivity in children. Fathers’ weekly commute was also linked to child emotional problems. The likelihood of having peer relationship problems in children increased with the distance of fathers’ daily commute to work. Symptoms of emotional problems are being unhappy, sad or tearful, and examples for peer relationship problems include being solitary, preferring to play alone and being bullied by other children.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Dr. Jianghong Li: Parents’ long commute to work bears negative consequences for children’s social and emotional well-being. Parents need to factor children’s wellbeing in their decision-making with regard to where to seek jobs. Along with other negative consequences of long commuting to work for the environment such as pollution and urban sprawl, our finding provides a further justification for the government to consider reducing incentives for commuting to work, such tax deductions.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Jianghong Li: Future studies need to examine commuting mode and time which may modify the impact of long commuting to work on the wellbeing of children and families. Further research is also needed to look at parents’ mental wellbeing (e.g., stress) and parenting behaviour as possible mediating factors linking commuting to poor outcomes for children.
MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.

Citation:

Jianghong Li, Matthias Pollmann-Schult. Fathers’ Commute to Work and Children’s Social and Emotional Well-Being in Germany. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 2015; DOI: 10.1007/s10834-015-9467-y

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