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Does Living Close to Your Destination Make You Late? A Very Small Experiment

I have wondered about it many times, and I’m guessing you have too: if you lived right around the corner from your destination (school, work, church, whatever), wouldn’t you always be on time? After all, there’d be no travel hassle, no potential traffic delays, etc. Or, conversely, might your proximity dull your sense of punctuality?
A reader recently wondered the same thing, and set out to conduct a small experiment. Behold:

My name’s Abhaya Pande. I’m a 21-year-old girl, from Pune, India, who’s on the brink of a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering. … As a kid, I was always interested in how things worked and why people do the things they do. I always had a scary intuition that told me when people were uncomfortable or lying. But I just didn’t know anything and everything was economics at work, not the publicized financial stuff, but as you said, “the study of the effect of incentives.”
So I decided to analyze something I’ve always seen, noticed and been a part of, but never really given much thought to: the relation between distance between your home and place of work and the probability of getting late.
So, I decided to put down my first data set and see things differently.
My college class consists of 53 students. All live in Pune: either with their families, in rented apartments, as paying guests, or at the hostel. Of these, 26 (49 percent) live near (within a radius of 7 kilometers) and 27 (51 percent) live far (outside the imaginary 7-kilometer radius). Of those who live near, 17 own a car or motorcycle or scooter and thus have their independent mode of transport. The other 9 in the near group rely on public transport.
Of the far group, 6 have their own modes of transport and 21 have to rely on public transport.
Therefore, conventional wisdom dictates, that those who live near and have their own modes of transport should reach college earlier than those who live far and have no modes of transport.
But my data, which I noted on 3 regular weekdays and averaged out, betrayed this.
As it turned out, 18 were late. Of these 12 (67 percent) lived near and 6 (33 percent) lived far. Of those in the near late-comers, 10 owned their own mode of transport (!) and 2 had to rely on public transport. From the far late-comers, only 2 owned cars, bikes, etc., and the other 4 had use the bus, trains, etc.
So as it turns out, people who live near to college come late, and of those, students who were in control of their own mode of transport, were even more late!
Note: this is my first ever attempt at economics and to professors like you, my data and analysis might seem child-like. My sincere apologies!

I wrote back and asked Abhaya how she gathered her data; i.e., did she interview each classmate as to living location and mode of transport? Her reply:

I did not formally interview all of them. Most of them were my friends, so I knew where they stayed, at least the area. As for the few others, I just asked some of my friends who knew them. Its a little rookie, I know. 🙂

She also included a couple of interesting post-scripts:

Your analysis of the television bringing progress to India’s rural side is spot on! And the production companies have noticed it too. Most of the so-called regional soaps here have one or most of the following elements:
1. A goody-two-shoes, innocent, lovable girl who’s also an empowered woman-to-be (these days, she lives in a village).
2. The fair, successful, rich, brilliant boy, who likes this girl.
3. His vamp-like mother, who thinks she’s the most beautiful of them all.
4. The battle between the girl and the mom-in-law and the brigade of bystander family members.
5. Other nauseating, melodramatic stuff.
But, even though the production houses have started cashing in on this phenomena, it has done a lot of good to the battered women, who can now live life on their terms. Kudos!


I would really love to hear more of your comments on Ericsson’s paper on “deliberate practice.” I even tried it out and it worked! I play the piano, and I was really lagging back on my preparation for Trinity College of Music London’s Advanced Certificate in Solo Piano Exam. I came across the term “deliberate practice” somewhere on the Internet. I Googled it, got the paper, read it and tried implementing. I practiced motifs and passages that gave me trouble, “deliberately,” and I could see the improvements within days! It has now given me the confidence to prepare for the Licentiate of Trinity College of Music London (LTCL), Solo Piano. Thank you Professor Ericsson!

And thank you, Abhaya.