Oh, great: young people face longer commutes for less pay

Commuters at Clapham Junction station. Image: Getty.

The Office of National Statistics serves to uplift and depress analysts like me in equal measure. This week it served up the latter, with new figures showing that the number of people commuting for more than an hour to get into work has increased by almost a third (31 per cent) since 2011.

Longer commutes are good news for podcast makers – and for avid readers of Resolution Foundation reports – but bad news for everyone else. So on balance it’s something we should be concerned about. After all, commuting carries time and financial costs, along with wider effects on congestion and pollution. And for those with caring responsibilities, it can be a barrier to working at all.

Normally, commuting long distances is a trade-off for higher pay. Average commute times are about twice as high for those with incomes in top 25 per cent of the income distribution, compared to those in the bottom 25 per cent, once you control for control for age and cohort.

But while commute times have increased since 2011, pay has not. Real earnings remain below their 2011 level, both at the median and at the higher end of the distribution (which is likely where the longest commutes are). Commuting times have therefore increased faster than pay.

Unfortunately, we know this one sided trade-off of longer commutes without the resulting pay bonus is particularly true for young people. Our Intergenerational Commission found that millennials are on track to spend 64 more hours commuting in the year they turn 40 than the baby boomers did at that age. And yet their earnings are no higher than the generation born 15 years earlier at the same age.

Mean travel to work time in minutes by different generations.

So why are we commuting more? The housing market is likely to be a culprit. Many places with the best paying jobs are also those where housing supply is most constrained. This seems to be affecting renters and owners alike; our research finds that those in different tenures have similar commuting patterns.

The trend towards longer commutes may be happening at the expense of geographic mobility, too. Regional job-to-job moves have fallen since the early 2000s. This decline in mobility has implications for wages: the typical worker would have been £2,000 better off moving region and job, compared to staying with the same employer.

Beyond the overall increase in commute times, the other key takeaway is the gender imbalance in commuting. Men, unsurprisingly, are more likely to have long commutes. In one sense, this is a shame for men (though the extra time to read our reports is a silver lining).

But because commuting is a way of accessing higher paying jobs, it is more usefully interpreted as a way in which gender imbalances in caring responsibilities feed into a gender pay gap. The IFS has showed that a gender ‘commuting gap’ opens in the years after the birth of a first child, much as the pay gap does. They note that if women face more limited job choices due to caring responsibilities, they may lose access to higher paying jobs.


Proportion of commutes of different length undertaken by men and women in the UK, October-December 2017.

Commuting is a subject that is guaranteed to enrage people. But today’s figures show that commuter trends are even more important than rail rage and traffic jams: they provide an insight into where, and how, we work and live.

Longer commutes may be a sign that something is wrong with our housing market. And while many of us crave shorter commutes, for some groups, this can be a driver of labour market disadvantage too.

Nye Cominetti is a policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation.


In New Zealand, climate change is driving an eco-nationalist revival

The green and pleasant land of the South Island. Image: Getty.

“Ten years ago I would have called them settler f*****g land squatters,” Mike Smith, Maori-dom’s most tenacious activist, said last November as he reflected on the agriculture industry’s central role in driving climate change. “Now I have to try and get these people on board.”

Smith is infamous for taking a chainsaw to Auckland’s most prominent tree on a damp October night in 1994 in protest of the “Pākehā” – or white European –dominated government’s fiscal envelope restraining treaty settlements. Now he’s turned his hand to another cause close-to-home for the Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous population: the environment.

“We’re super vulnerable, like we are to anything,” Smith says. “When it comes to climate change it’s like the poorest people in the world are going to be hit the hardest first, and that’s a lot of us.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appears, at least rhetorically, the most sympathetic leader to his cause in a decade. In her campaign launch speech late last year, she made the future government’s position clear: “Climate change is my generation’s nuclear free moment.”

This message should resonate with followers of her Labour party: the NZ left has long nurtured an environment-orientated “culture-of-protest”. So Ardern’s call to arms was bound to gain her loyal support among children of the 1960s and ‘70s, who led the march against nuclear ship visits, spurring on the government of the time to wriggle out from the US nuclear umbrella, and place a ban on foreign nuclear ship visits.

Now, it is to the tycoons of deep sea oil exploration they aim to close NZ’s ports.

In this, Smith is not short of support locally, with marches run by grassroots organisations and international animal welfare funds beginning to gain traction with every day New Zealanders. In this, Ardern’s prediction is correct: the Coal Action Network Aotearoa (CANA), is reminiscent of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), an earlier cluster of left-wing pacifists and nature lovers who drove the creation of the nuclear free zone.  

In December, 15,000 passionate protesters marched through the capital. And with the government’s recent ban of offshore oil exploration projects, Jeanette Fitzsimons, former Green party co-leader and the head of CANA, is optimistic about similar change to the energy and farming sectors.

The Labour-NZ First-Green party coalition seems focused on setting a new global precedent, weaning NZ away from a United States which has jettisoned the Paris Agreement. The move replicates another 20 years ago, when New Zealand’s anti-nuclear movement was central to an upsurge in New Zealand nationalism. Now, the same sense of going it alone on foreign policy is apparent both locally and in Parliament.

Dr. Gradon Diprose, a senior lecturer at Massey University, argues that this echoes an older expression of colonial nationalism, that saw “New Zealand as a land of natural abundance”. This: “eco-nationalism” is centered on “protecting certain visions of picturesque landscapes and unspoiled natural beauty”. The slogan “Clean, green New Zealand” is prevalent in popular culture and tourism marketing. The public seems to have latched onto it too, and ranked keeping NZ’s waterways “clean and green” top of a recent survey of of kiwis’ top concerns.

Three decades ago, it was the 10 July 1985 sinking of the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior that thrust local activists’ fears into the public eye, resulting in an almost nation-wide expression of climate-protectionism.

The bombing, a French intelligence operation sparked by Greenpeace’s calls for an end to foreign nuclear testing in the Pacific, galvanised a great deal of change to New Zealand’s overseas defence policies. A lack of censure from New Zealand’s Western allies drove Wellington to distance itself from the United States, while the shock of seeing a friendly nation violate NZ’s sovereignty left many at home seething.

Thirty years on, the foreign policy split throughout the Anglosphere, regarding Russian-Western relations, globalism, and the old international rules-based order, is becoming wider. Climate change is just the tip of the iceberg.

Most Kiwis you talk to will shake their heads in disapproval at US president Donald Trump’s scandalous outing last year in Helsinki. But US defiance of internationally brokered climate resolutions is something they can see clearly reflected in rural communities across the country.

The country saw records broken at both ends of the extreme weather spectrum last year. As 2018 kicked off, Kiwis sweltered through the hottest summer on record, while in Golden Bay, a small inlet near the northern tip of the South Island, residents endured the largest flood in 150 years. So, when President Trump tweets “So much for Global Warming”, the majority of New Zealanders look back fondly on NZ’s 1985 decision to boycott the “ANZUS” treaty, putting New Zealand at odds with its war-time ally America on defence legislation.

Public calls to take the same track on environmental regulation have become louder in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. The former US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, received a frosty “unwelcome” while on a flyby to the capital in 2017, with the New York Times’ Washington correspondent, Gardiner Harris remarking: “I’ve never seen so many people flip the bird at an American motorcade as I saw today”. Protests against President Trump’s stance on climate change are beginning to gain greater traction further still, with the hundred-strong “march for science” setting the tone for the new government later that year.

New Zealand certainly isn’t afraid of radicalism, and its activists are persistent. It’s already banned single use plastics in supermarkets. Plenty more is to come, Smith says.

And yes, reform is going to inhibit sometimes vital industries: “It doesn’t matter which way you spin the dice on this, whatever’s being done is going to hurt. People who are looking for a painless way of mitigating climate change, [but] I don’t think there is one.”

But among Smith’s troupe of climate agitators, the feeling is that, without drastic change, “the land”, the heart of the Maori ethos, is going to be hurt far more.

Back in Auckland, NZ’s financial hub, an electric scooter craze is gripping the city. This, too, has gained the support of local environmentalists. In New Zealand, a national sense of pride is always coupled with a certain eccentricity. In a country this size, change always starts small.