Bearing the Consequences? Parental Commuting and Children''s Well-Being

Christine Borowsky, SOCIUM Research Center on Inequality and Social Policy, University of Bremen

For many parents, commuting is the direct link between work and family. Whereas it is just a few minutes ride for some, others commute over long distance to reach their work place. Nowadays, the feminisation of the labour market brings challenges for couples as both have to find an adequate job in the same location. Further, workers have been faced with increasing expectations regarding their spatial mobility. This is particularly demanding for families which usually prefer to spare their children a move. Due to these socio-economic changes, long-distance commuting is becoming a popular phenomenon. Some families might perceive it as solution for the work/family challenge. However, it may come with costs.

We already know that long-distance commuting can affect the commuter and the relationship to their partner. However, the question arises whether the well-being of commuter’s children might be affected as well. Here, research is still scarce.

This is the first study to focus on the parent-child relationship as key mediator between commuting time and child well-being. It is hypothesised that parental long-distance commuting is negatively connected with the parent-child relationship, which in turn is highly important for the children’s well-being. Using the German Family Panel, a structural equation model is performed to test this hypothesis. Results show that long-distance commuters have a poorer parent-child relationship, and, additionally, the children have a lower well-being. Clear gender differences exist, as all relations apply in particular to mothers. Summarised, children of long-distance commuting mothers are at risk for a poorer well-being. These findings confirm that although commuting is a strategy to combine work and family it may come with costs for the children.


Bearingthe Consequences? Parental Commuting and Children’s Well-Being

ChristineBorowsky

 

For many parents, commuting is the direct link between work andfamily. Whereas it is just a few minutes ride for some, others commute overlong distance to reach their work place. Nowadays, the feminisation of thelabour market brings challenges for couples as both have to find an adequatejob in the same location. Further, workers have been faced with increasingexpectations regarding their spatial mobility. This is particularly demandingfor families which usually prefer to spare their children a move. Due to thesesocio-economic changes, long-distance commuting is becoming a popularphenomenon. Some families might perceive it as solution for the work/familychallenge. However, it may come with costs.

We already know from previous research that long-distance commutingcan affect the commuter, such as their well-being, and the relationship totheir partner, for example the relationship stability. However, the questionarises whether the well-being of commuter’s children might be affected as well.

Prior research indicates an association of parental long-distancecommuting and children‘s well-being: Parental commuting can decrease children‘swell-being. Nevertheless, research is still scarce and findings are not clear.

Based on Goode’s theory of role strain and the concept ofboundary-spanning demands by Voydanoff it is assumed that the fulfilling of(too) many roles in the work and home environment and the commuting asadditional demand can strain a parent heavily. Thus, it is not only the time aparent is absent, but the strain it puts on the parent as commuting is usuallyneither fun nor paid. Further, Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theorypoints out how the parent’s workplace influences the development of the childthrough the parent-child interaction.

Thus, it is expected that the long-distance commuting of the parentis associated with a poorer parent-child relationship which in turn is linkedto a lower well-being of the child. Moreover, gender differences are expectedwith stronger relations for maternal commuters, which is based on previousresearch analysing the effect of commuting on commuters and their relationship.

The relationship between parental long-distance commuting andchildren’s well-being is analysed using the German Family Panel. The sampleincludes employed parents with children aged six to 15 years. A structuralequation model is carried out, with the parental commuting distance as centralindependent variable, the well-being of the child as dependent variable and theparent-child relationship as key mediator. The well-being is measuredmultidimensional, including the child’s conduct problems, emotional symptomsand hyperactivity. The parent-child relationship is measured via the twocontrary dimensions of esteem and conflict. Further, a major advantage of theGerman Family Panel is the multi-actor design: The parent as well as the childwas interviewed. Thus, the analyses can be performed twice, examining whetherboth perspectives yield the same results.

The results indicate that long-distance commuting parents show especiallyless often esteem towards their children. This in turn is associated with moreconduct problems and hyperactivity of the child. Clear gender differences arefound, as the results apply in particular for mothers. These results can becalled double-checked, as both the parent and the child perspective yieldcorresponding results. Finally, for fathers no significant results areobtained.

Altogether, these findings confirm that although commuting is astrategy to combine work and family it may come with costs for the children.

Presented in Session 1232: Posters