The American Commute Grows Ever Longer

As well as just taking up more of your time, that longer commute may also lead to poor health.

The average worker now takes 26 minutes to travel to work, according to U.S. Census Bureau data recently cited by the World Economic Forum. That’s the longest length of commuting time since the Census began tracking this data in 1980, when the typical commute was only 21.7 minutes.

The Forum cites findings that slightly more than 139 million U.S. workers were commuting in 2014. At an average of 26 minutes each way to work, five days a week, 50 weeks a year, that works out to something like a total of 1.8 trillion minutes—or 29.6 billion hours, 1.2 billion days, or a collective 3.4 million years.

The typical 26-minute commute in each direction works out to nine full days a year spent getting to work and back. A worker with a 90-minute commute spends three hours a day on the road, which works out to more than a full month out of the year commuting.

In a separately cited survey of 900 Texas women that rated their feelings during various daily activities, the morning commute came in last in terms of positive emotions, behind work, childcare and home chores.

Other research has linked longer commutes with increased rates of obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, back and neck pain, divorce, depression and death. Workers who commute more are less likely to vote or escape poverty, but are more likely to be absent from work.

Among other findings:

  • Roughly a quarter of American commutes are less than 15 minutes one way. Nearly 17% of us have commutes that are 45 minutes or longer.
  • The prevalence of long commutes is growing. In 1980, fewer than 12% of American workers commuted for 45 minutes or more one way, according to the Census.
  • In 1990, the Census began tracking those with longer commutes and found that 1.6% of workers commuted 90 minutes or more one way. In 2014, 2.62% of workers commuted that long, an increase of 64% in just under a quarter of a century.