Commuting, working and wellbeing: A case study of Accra, Ghana

Traffic congestion in Accra

Major cities across Sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing rapid growth and therefore facing some challenges. 

In Ghana the urban population has more than tripled since the mid-1980s, with the urban population in Accra alone increasing from 73% to 91% between 1960 and 2010. Rapid urbanisation shifts are often associated with infrastructure problems, and the development of transport networks to support commuting into urban areas where most employment and other economic activities are located in most developing countries, is lagging behind.

Congestion due to limited and poor infrastructure imposes high costs and lowers productivity by increasing the economic distance between people and employment. Commuting is also linked negatively to health and subjective wellbeing which impact productivity through increased sickness absence, and presenteeism. Commuting times impact work-life balance and are a particular problem for women (and others) who undertake the bulk of unpaid housework and care-giving.

The study aims to address these initial research questions:

1. What are the benefits and costs of commuting in Accra, Ghana and how do they impact on employment outcomes?

2. How do different modes of transport to work in Accra impact on health and well-being?

3. How do the impacts of commuting costs and benefits differ between the intersecting categories of gender, age, household status, class and ethnicity?

The overall objectives are to inform transport policy design in support of employment, particularly that of women, and ultimately in support of economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Data collection and processing was an interdisciplinary collaborative effort between local research partners (ABANTU for Development, Empab Ltd, and Opportunity International Savings and Loans Ltd), and the UK research team.

Photo 2: Members of the research team in a discussion at the start of a focus group, Photo 3: Prof Tim Schwanen leading a focus group discussion

Data collection

The pilot study was conducted in Accra, Ghana in April 2019 (round 1) and January 2020 (round 2). A mixed method approach was used and generated a total survey sample of over 700 individuals and captured discussion-group data from over 25 focus groups. The survey collected data on the financial, time, environmental and other non-pecuniary costs and benefits of commuting. It also collected data on modes of transport, employment patterns, time spent in household work and family care, health and well-being. The focus groups, using a discussion guide informed by the survey data, explored commuting issues in more depth and enabled us to gather any information that was not readily accessible in the questionnaire.

Photo 4:Members of the UK team and local support workers during a focus group discussion with market traders Photo 5:Prof Fiona Carmichael and Prof Jo Duberley with women activists at ABANTU for Development, Ghana. .

The data is currently being used to analyse the relationship between commuting costs and benefits and employment outcomes and in particular, examining the differential impacts on male and female employment, health and well-being.

The study was funded by the Birmingham Business School and the Institute for Global Innovation at the University of Birmingham, and the University of Oxford. 

Research Team