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Internal Migration and Commuting in International Perspective

Symposium of the BiB and the University of Hamburg in Wiesbaden, 4-6 February 2015

Research on spatial mobility has experienced a substantial upswing within the social sciences in recent years. This development has arisen due to the increasing demands for spatial mobility on the labour markets and the rising importance of multi-local living arrangements due to demographic developments. The increasing variety of research questions regarding this topic has become visible during the symposium on "Internal Migration and Commuting in International Perspective", which was organised by Dr. Stefanie Kley and Jun.Prof. Dr. Natascha Nisic from the University of Hamburg and Dr. Heiko Rüger from the BiB. The event was visited by several national and international scientists who discussed current research results on spatial mobility.

The conference, divided into five key subjects, was begun with the director of the BiB, Professor Norbert F. Schneider, giving an overview of the status of sociological research on spatial mobility. He emphasised that changed working conditions caused by globalisation and flexibilisation were a main cause for the growth in mobility. In previous research both the circumstances underlying the decision for a mobile life and its consequences played decisive roles. For those affected by mobility, it can have considerable impacts on health, family life and social integration.

Decision for spatial mobility: yes or no?

The first key subject looked at approaches for explaining the decision to lead a mobile life or not and illustrated the wide variety of influences and motives. In addition to financial considerations, vocational factors such as income, position or work content also play major roles. Often it is also a matter of skills whether people decide for or against mobility.

Spatial mobility, employment and social relations

The second key subject discussed what consequences mobility has for social relations and integration on the labour market (primarily with regard to gender differences). It was demonstrated, for example, that the form of mobility chosen has an influence on social integration, whereby the effects differ with regard to gender. Moreover, occupationally specific characteristics have a strong influence on regional and job-related mobility.

Spatial mobility in the life course

Mobility has a variety of effects on the life course of those affected. Conversely, personal life situations also influence the chosen form of mobility, such as moves, as some presentations in the third key subject confirmed. It also became clear that a mobile life effects subjective well-being. For instance, it was demonstrated that those who decided for spatial mobility for job-related reasons were less satisfied with their lives. There are also consequences for starting families – predominantly for women – among the highly mobile in particular.

Spatial mobility and family development

The fourth key subject was dedicated to this issue. Results from the European survey Job Mobilities and Family Lives in Europe confirm that job-related mobility has differing effects on the fertility of men and women. From the results, the participating scientists concluded that there is a growing conflict of goals between increasing mobility and flexibility among the gainfully employed that puts the life balance of families and the gender ratio in a problematic situation. This is revealed, for example, in family moves, which, when it comes to the division of housework, are disadvantageous for women. However, no distinct causal correlation can be proven between mobility experiences and fertility patterns.

Effects on couples

Spatial mobility effects not only family development, but also relationships, as the fifth key subject found. It was shown, for instance, that the risk of separation rises among couples in separate households with long mutual travelling distances. Changes in partners also influence moves and vice versa.

Conclusion: Highly differentiated diversity in the research on spatial mobility

In general, the contributions demonstrated that scientific research on the interdependencies of spatial mobility and society has become more important in recent years. The numerous methodologically oriented presentations confirmed how complex and highly differentiated the research in this area has become. It was clear that at present the life course approach has become established as the defining research perspective. During the discussion, it was repeatedly noted that there are still research gaps that require closing. We can therefore expect that the subject of spatial mobility in all its diversity will continue to occupy the social sciences in future.

A comprehensive report with further results of the symposium is available in German in the latest issue of Bevölkerungsforschung Aktuell 1/2015.

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