High mobility over the life course: evidence from a longitudinal study in Europe

Commuting and travelling extensively for job reasons both helps and challenges people to balance competing demands of work and personal life. People do not have equal resources and possibilities to benefit from high mobility. Globalisation, labour flexibility and insecurity, transport and telecommunications systems have led to more complex, more personalised and more fluctuating mobile living arrangements. Moreover, work-related travel has not only to do with occupations and careers, but must be understood in relation with the broader context (spatial, residential, cultural, political, economic and relational) in which people are embedded (Mandersheid, 2013, Sheller & Urry, 2006). While social scientists have paid increasing attention to this area in the last 15 years, previous longitudinal studies have mainly focused on migration and residential mobility, neglecting other forms of movement. This talk brings together ideas and findings from our forthcoming book ‘High Mobility in Europe: balancing work and personal life’ (Palgrave Macmillan). It explores how high mobility behaviours and their relations to personal life change over the life course. Mixed methods were used based on two-wave panel data and retrospective data collected in four European countries (France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland) from the research project ‘Job Mobilities and Family Lives in Europe’ (Schneider and Meil, 2008). Particular emphasis will be placed on the social and gender inequalities associated with various forms of work-related high mobility. Based on the JobMob data, we will first show that the portion of the population practising high mobility (when measured by travel time) has been stable over the past decades rather than increasing. Young highly mobile people have nevertheless more fluctuating early-career mobility histories than their elders did at the same stage in their career. People frequently start and stop being highly mobile over their careers. These changes are often unpredictable for actors and depend on the economic climate and the personal context. While middle-class people are more likely to become highly mobile than working-class people, they are not more likely to practise high mobility in the long run. Secondly, we will show that there is a considerable variety in the opinions of highly mobile people regarding their situation. Some people find pleasure and professional opportunities in high mobility. In Spain, for example, low-income mobile people tend to see high mobility more positively in times of economic crisis, because it helped them to get or keep a job. Overall, we observed a normalisation process over mobile people’s lives. People increasingly see their mobility as a need enabling them to combine a distant job with a local place attachment. However, some social groups face major difficulties in combining high mobility demands and family development. Single parents are often under time pressure, which results in a negative perception of their long commutes. Women living in Germany and Switzerland who have a job requiring frequent/long-distance travel are less likely than their male counterpart to stay with the same partner and to have children. We conclude by suggesting some possible policy interventions.

Presented at:
Symposium "internal migration and commuting in international perspective", University of Hamburg and BiB, Wiesbaden, Germany,, 4-6 February 2015
Manderscheid, K. (2014). Criticising the Solitary Mobile Subject: Researching Relational Mobilities and Reflecting on Mobile Methods. Mobilities, 9(2), 188-219. Schneider, N. F. Meil, G. (2008). Mobile Living Across Europe I: Relevance and Diversity of Job-related Spatial Mobility in Six European Countries. Opladen: Barbara Budrich. Sheller, M. Urry, J. (2006). The New Mobilities Paradigm. Environment and Planning A 38(2), 207–226. Viry, G. Kaufmann, V. (Eds) (Forthcoming). High Mobility in Europe: balancing work and personal life. Palgrave Macmillan.

 Record created 2015-02-26, last modified 2018-03-17

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