What Drives Telecommuting? Study's Surprising Results Reveal Assumptions Often Incorrect
January 10, 2007
WASHINGTON, D.C., -- Education, age, and race are all statistically significant factors in explaining telecommuting behavior, according to researchers at Resources for the Future (RFF) and the University of Maryland -- but perhaps even more important is the industry in which a person works and the type of job he or she has.
The findings come from a recently released paper, "What Drives Telecommuting? The Relative Impact of Worker Demographics, Employer Characteristics, and Job Types" (Discussion Paper 06-41) The paper, which uses survey data collected in southern California, will be presented at the 86th annual Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington, DC, in January.
According to the paper's authors, an individual is more likely to telecommute if he or she is more than 30 years of age, has a college degree, and is Caucasian, while gender and presence of young children in the home are not strong factors affecting telecommuting.
Some of these results are surprising," noted Margaret Walls, senior fellow at RFF and lead author of the paper. "The common assumption about telecommuting is that it appeals most to families with children, but we found this to not be the case."
The researchers go on to say that where an individual works, what kind of job he or she holds, and length of commute are significant, while length of time with a given employer is not. Their work shows that workers with jobs in sales, architecture, and engineering are more likely to telecommute, as are senior or middle managers, while health care workers are less likely. Interestingly, the research also revealed that individuals working for firms with 25-250 employees are less likely to telecommute than people who work for smaller or larger firms.
One key finding of the work related to frequency of telecommuting: people who worked for employers with a formal telecommuting program were much more frequent telecommuters than those who worked for employers with no formal program.
"Telecommuting can be a good solution for many, but it clearly works better for some groups than for others," said Elena Safirova, a fellow at RFF and a coauthor of the paper. "The results suggest that instead of using broad mandates or tax credits, government policies should target groups that are more likely to respond to telecommuting incentives."
Resources for the Future, an independent and nonpartisan Washington, D.C., think-tank, seeks to improve environmental and natural resource policymaking worldwide through objective social science research of the highest caliber.
Founded in 1952, Resources for the Future is an independent and nonpartisan institution.