There is reason to believe that a long school commute negatively affects the wellbeing of teenagers, but the empirical evidence is limited. The focus of past research has usually been on the commute mode or type rather than the commute length. Virtually all existing studies are based on surveys of a single domain of wellbeing; most have only established associations rather than causation and are set in highly developed countries in North America and Europe. Very few studies on this topic have been conducted in China.
This study employs a sizable nation-wide survey called China Education Panel Survey (CEPS). The sample includes nearly 7500 teenagers, ranging in age from 12 to 19, nearly all of whom attend public schools. Their wellbeing in relation to the length of the school commute is explored across three domains (health, activities, and cognition). An econometric technique called Propensity Score Matching (PSM) is applied to estimate causal effects; we control for 13 covariates. A long commute is defined as lasting at least 20 min one-way.
Long commutes lead to: lower self-reported health and mental health scores, lower grades (in English, Chinese, mathematics, and cognitive tests), less time spent surfing the Internet, playing games, and sleeping, higher BMI and absenteeism, and more time completing household chores. When we control for commute mode, we find that even active long commutes are associated with lower physical and mental health status and reduced cognitive abilities and academic performance.
Long commutes negatively affect teenagers’ wellbeing regardless of transport mode (active or passive). To moderate this effect, the Chinese education and transport sectors should come together to (a) create and maintain a dense network of good schools; (b) improve transport services around schools; (c) provide publicly funded school-bus services; (d) build dormitories in very large school districts.
To cite this study:
Ding, P., Li, Y., Feng, S., Pojani, D. 2023. Do long school commutes undermine teenagers’ wellbeing? Evidence from a nation-wide survey in China. Journal of Transport & Health 30:101605, doi.org/10.1016/j.jth.2023.101605.