Scottish Longitudinal Study
Development & Support Unit

Current Projects

Project Title:

A longitudinal analysis of travel to work patterns in Scotland 1991-2011: A public health perspective

Project Number:



Claire O'Boyle (Queen's University Belfast)
Ian Shuttleworth (Queen's University Belfast)
Ruth McAreavey (Queen's University Belfast)

Start Date:

22 Sept 2015



We are living in an increasingly mobile world, travelling more frequently, to further destinations and using a wider range of modes of transport than ever before (Massey, 1991). Recent academic discoveries have added to this important area of mobility discourse, including findings by Cooke (2011; 2012) which argues that a reduction in residential migration in America marks the arrival of the fifth and final stage of Zelinsky’s (1971) Mobile Transition Theory. Cooke claims that this reduction is as a result of an increase in longer distance commuting substituting for residential moves; however this view of heightened mobility is confounded by the highly publicized notion that we are living increasingly sedentary lifestyles and as a result are suffering from ill-health related to inactivity and interestingly, immobility (Walsh, 2012).

There is a high level of consensus between academics and policy makers on the factors involved in commuting patterns; it has been reported that men travel further to work than women, car owners and rural residents commute further and for longer, as well as those who are employed in higher-status jobs (Baum, 2009; Bell & Osti, 2010; Coombes & Raybould, 2001; de Hoyos & Green, 2011; Jones & Lucas, 2012; Sandow, 2008; Simpson, 1992). It is also widely acknowledged that the level of private car ownership in the UK is continuing to grow whilst the dominance in the use of the private car for smallest of journeys, including the daily commute, has reached new highs (Sustrans, 2010).

There is a body of literature on the link between transport and public health (Barton, 2009; Lucas & Jones, 2012; Milne, 2012) and this project aims to add to this by providing the first longitudinal study of linkages between mode of transport, commuting distance and self-reported health. The key policy document relating to public health in the UK is the Marmot Review, a central recommendation of which is to reduce health inequalities across the UK, and a key measure in doing so is ‘improving active travel across the social gradient’ (Marmot, 2010, p24). The Government backed recommendation of thirty minutes of activity five times per week may only be practical for some sections of the population if the daily commute is used as a key method of activity (Barton, 2009). However, rates of commuting via active travel remain low across the Scotland and Northern Ireland at only 11.33% and 8.59% respectively in 2011 (NINIS, 2012;, 2015). This pattern contradicts the claim that active travel is essential to ensure large scale public health improvements.


This study is situated as part of a wider theoretical investigation into everyday mobilities, prompted by claims that we are living in an increasingly mobile world and that we have entered the fifth stage of Zelinsky’s (1971) Mobile Transition Theory. It has been reported that the daily commute to work in the UK accounts for around 1/5th of all journeys each day (Pooley & Turnbull, 2000) highlighting the importance of understanding the workings of this phenomenon and ensuring that, as a modern society, we are adequately prepared for it.

Academics have investigated commuting patterns highlighting the historical changes in mode of transport (Pooley & Turnbull, 1999), the impact of the private car (Baum, 2009) and transport and the sustainability agenda (Button & Nijkamp, 1997; Cooper, Ryley & Smith, 2001). However, these issues have been debated on the backdrop of smaller scale travel studies or investigations into trends at a single point in time (Shuttleworth& Lloyd, 2005). This project seeks to add to this body of literature through the unique opportunity to examine trends in commuting patterns over time in Scotland with a comparative study in Northern Ireland. A key aim is to investigate the changing nature of self-reported health and how it is linked to changes in commuting mode and distance over time. This project has important policy implications as the growing importance of undertaking regular activity through daily travel encourages policy interventions (Milne, 2012).


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COOKE, T.J., 2011. It is not just the economy: Declining migration and the rise of secular rootedness. Population, Space and Place, 17, pp. 193-203.

COOKE, T.J., 2012. Internal migration in decline. The Professional Geographer, 65(4), pp. 1-12.

COOMBES, M.G. & RAYBOULD, S.R., 2001. Commuting in England and Wales: 'people' and 'place' factors. European Research in Regional, 11(1), pp. 111-133.

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NINIS, 2012, Statistics, [Online]. Available: /public/Theme.aspx?themeNumber=135&themeName=Census%202001 Accessed [01/04/2014]

SANDOW, E., 2008. Commuting behaviour in sparsely populated areas: evidence from Northern Sweden. Journal of Transport Geography, 16, pp. 14-27.

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ZELINSKY, W., 1971. The hypothesis of the mobility transition. American Geographical Society, 61(2), pp. 219-249.

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