With its point of departure of increasing numbers of people being engaged in commuting, the aim of this thesis is to reveal prerequisites for and consequences of long-distance commuting in Sweden for the individual and his or her partner. Special attention has been given to prerequisites for long-distance commuting in sparsely populated areas, and to social consequences related to long-distance commuting in terms of gender differences in commuting patterns, earnings and separation. The thesis is based on four empirical studies, presented in different papers. Two studies draw on individual longitudinal register data on all Swedish long-distance commuters living with a partner. The other two focus on commuting behaviour in sparsely populated areas, one based on individual register data and the other on a survey.
Long-distance commuting (>30 kilometres) has become an increasingly common mobility strategy among Swedish workers and their households. Results from the thesis show that 11 percent of Swedish workers are long-distance commuters and about half of them live in a relationship. Among these couples many are families with children, indicating the importance of social ties in households’ decisions on where to work and live. Most long-distance commuters are men, and it is also likely that long-distance commuters have a high education level and are employed in the private sector. For the majority, long-distance commuting gives higher earnings; however, men benefit economically more than women do. As long-distance commuting reduces available family time, the non-commuting spouse often takes on a larger share of household commitments. The thesis shows that men’s long-distance commuting may therefore serve to reproduce and reinforce traditional gender roles on the labour market and within households. On the other hand, women’s long-distance commuting can lead to more equalitarian relationships on the labour market and within households. For the majority of couples it seems as if long-distance commuting becomes more than a temporary mobility strategy, while for some couples it does not work out very well. Separation rates are found to be higher among long-distance commuters compared to other couples; especially the first years of commuting seem to be the most challenging. It is suggested that coping strategies are important to make the consequences of long-distance commuting easier to handle and adjust to in the daily life puzzle. For those unable to handle these consequences, long-distance commuting is not a sustainable mobility strategy and can even end a relationship.
The extent of long-distance commuting is low in sparsely populated areas, and those who do long-distance commute are mainly men. Most people work and live within the same locality and do not accept longer commuting times than do those in densely populated areas. In this thesis it is argued that facilitating car commuting in the more sparsely populated areas of Sweden can be more economically and socially sustainable, for the individual commuters as well as for society, than encouraging commuting by public transportation.