Commuting is an indispensable part of daily life for millions of people worldwide. A large array of previous studies focused on the relationships between the commuting and the employees’ labor market performance [2–4]. With negative externalities of the sickness absence, the nexus between the commuting and sickness absence has also attracted extensive attentions [2, 5].
Based on the theory of new welfare economics, long commute is viewed as an activity of time-consumption, which is related with poor psychological and physical health outcomes [6–8]. Accordingly, the leisure time of employees for health-promoting plans, such as physical activities, relaxation and social participation may be crowded out by the longer commuting time . In addition, while the leisure could be substituted for shirking by each other, there is more likely for shirking behaviors among those employees with a longer commute time . It implies that with the decreasing cost of absence, a longer commuting may lead to more benefit from their absence to ask for more leisure, which could be used for other purposes rather than for work . Therefore, asking for “sickness” leave could be regarded as a result of rational decision.
There is also no consensus reached in empirical studies. It is a common belief that longer journeys may induce more sickness absence. A body of evidences from developed markets have confirmed that a longer commuting might increase the likelihood of illness-related absence [2, 5, 11–12], but several studies also reveal that there was no evidence supporting the commute-absence effect [5, 13]. More importantly, some researches provide the evidence on heterogeneous commute-absence effects. Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics for the years 2011, 2013, and 2015, Gimenez-Nadal et al. (2018) found that the daily commute is associated with men’s sick-day absences, while it has no significant effect on women . Similarly, Karlström and Isacsson (2010) also pointed out that commuting time only has a positive effect on sickness absence of women with lower wages .
Additionally, several studies from non-western countries also show clear evidences that commute time are linked with bad health status. Using a large and unique nationally representative sample in Brazil, Oliveira et al. (2015) drew the conclusion that individuals with more than one hour of commuting are more likely to be in poor health status . Applying the Seoul survey data collected between 2006 and 2015, Jun et al. (2019) also revealed a negatively relationship between commuting time and subjective well-being . A survey was conducted in Tokyo for school teachers by Nomoto et al. (2015), which also demonstrated that long-time commuters are more likely for less sleep and exercise .
With the rapid urbanization and increasing ownership of private vehicle, most of employees in urban China have experienced a heavy commuting burden , an increasing amount of research has focused on the nexus between commuting and urban residents’ subjective well-being [8, 19–21]. But the discussion on commute-sickness absence effect is still scant in those non-western countries, which should be further explored in the future.
In sum, previous studies have two limitations as follows. Firstly, it is important to be aware that absence due to sickness is a multi-factorial phenomenon [22–23]. Most of studies were carried out in the European developed markets, whereas the discussion in the non-western or undeveloped context is still unexplored. Another limitation is that the mechanism linking the commuting and sickness is still unclear, whereas the debate whether the commuting-absence effect is transmitted through health-related outcomes or shirking behaviors is underexplored as well.
To fill these gaps, this study attempts to address two issues: whether commute time is positively related with sickness absence or not? If it does, what is the potential mechanism linking the commute time and sickness absence?
This study may contribute to the exiting studies in several distinct ways.
Firstly, following Goerke and Lorenz(2017), a unique dataset (CMEES) and the zero-inflated negative binomial model are firstly applied to explore the nexus between commuting and sickness absence in China context.
Secondly, the two potential transmission channels linking the commuting and sickness absence are discussed in China context by estimating the effect of commuting on health-related outcomes and work efforts.
Thirdly, the heterogeneous commuting-absence effects with respect to Hukou status, gender, patterns of commuting, scale of cities and types of companies are taken into full consideration within the context of China.