Where is Europe headed in terms of spatial mobility, social relations and family life?

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Europe is likely to see rising, not declining, mobility in the foreseeable future. How Europe chooses to adapt itself, structurally, socially, and ideologically, will have a big impact on whether this mobility is detrimental or helpful to the social and environmental fiber of the continent.

How Europe chooses to adapt itself, structurally, socially, and ideologically, will have a big impact on whether this mobility is detrimental or helpful to the social and environmental fiber of the continent.

There are a number of reasons to believe that mobility is on the rise. The circumstances that foster spatial mobility are likely to increase or, at a minimum, remain stable: dual-earner couples, time-limited contracts, outsourcing, and consulting are trends that are increasing and not yet exhausted. These developments are especially likely to increase the incidence of recurring mobility, as opposed to relocation. Although migration has been made easier by new European Union policies, people are likely to keep their home while working for a length of time somewhere else – a phenomenon called transmigration: working abroad without migrating. This trend will be particularly pronounced among Europeans in midlife. Younger Europeans and those who have not established families or strong local networks are more likely to relocate. Companies with multiple locations, especially international companies, produce more mobility, and this sector is increasing.

Erasmus programs at universities are designed to increase student mobility. In doing so, they also increase the chance that young people will work in another country and also meet a potential partner in another country, both of which will lead to long-term increased spatial mobility – for job-related as well as for private or family-related reasons.

New forms of technology bring people into contact who otherwise would never meet. For example, internet-based work communities, and internet-based dating, bring more people into contact who wish to meet, at some point, in real places in real time. Human beings have a need to see each other face-to-face. Technology cannot replace the experience of meeting in person. Therefore, the expectations for overnight stays for work and travel for Long Distance Relationships are also likely to increase.

Couples who confront mobility demands for one or the other job face three options: one or the other can commute, can end the job, or end the relationship. As both partners are increasingly likely to be in paid employment, and mobility demands in many industries are increasing, particularly among the growing well-educated population, the likelihood that couples will have to face these kinds of choices are increasing. The consequences will be more of all three: more mobility around Europe, more frequent job changes, and more frequent partnership changes, as various couples choose various strategies at various life stages. The changes in partnership further increase the probability that partners will experience spells of Long Distance Relationships, as partners, especially in later life stages, meet through their jobs or in online communities.

The possibility to have children is the next great challenge of rising and high mobility. The severe downturn in birth rates across the decades of the 20th century will not be likely to reverse itself if the people who could become parents are in planes, trains, and automobiles during most of their “non-work” time. Furthermore, the chance to develop a close relationship that would allow for child-rearing is diminished by high mobility. Therefore short-term economic gains from high mobility as a national strategy can lead to long-term economic declines as the population does not replace itself, and the pension systems fail for lack of new workers. The Job Mobility and Family Lives Project (http://www.jobmob-and-famlives.eu ) established a link between high job mobility demands among young workers and a delay and ultimate decline in the probability of having children, and in the number who are ultimately born.

European growth and sustainability is a product of the interaction between policies – the stage setting – and the practices, traditions, “pain thresholds”, and wishes of European residents in their choices of where and how to live, work, increase their educational qualifications or not, raise families or not. Thousands of small daily decisions made by 400 million people impact the quality and structure of life on the European continent. Job-related mobility decisions and processes, and their relation to family decisions, are an important part of this picture.

Exerpted partly from: Hofmeister, Heather & Norbert Schneider. 2010. „Job Mobilities in Europe: Core Findings, Policy Implications and Future Outlook “ in Mobile Living across Europe, Volume II: Causes and Consequences of Job-Related Spatial Mobility in Cross-National Perspective. N. Schneider & B. Collet (Hg.). Barbara Budrich Verlag.

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