Eric D. Widmer

Viry,G. and Kaufmann,V. and Widmer,E.,D. (2008).Switzerland -Mobility: A life stage issue? In: Schneider, N. F. and Meil, G.(Eds). Mobile living across Europe. Relevance and Diversit of Job-Related Spatial Mobility in Six European Countries. Opladen and Farmington Hills, Barbara Budrich Publishers, pp. 189-228.

Rational choice approaches of mobility consider it as the result of a synchronous comparison between costs and outcomes done by individuals lead by exogeneous preferences, without regard for past experiences of mobility, habitus entrenched in long lasting practices, and cultural resources made available to them by their family of origin or aquired through a history of social mobility. Quite to the contrary, the life course approach emphasizes the importance of the succession of events and the accumulation of resources over time for the understanding of behaviors, attitudes or goals of individuals as they currently stand (Levy et al., 2005; Sapin, Spini & Widmer, 2007). Without some knowledge of the pathways that lead to present mobility, it is in our view difficult to fully grasp the constraints and opportunities that explain individual actions and their consequences. Therefore, at the individual level, the timing of crucial experiences through the life course gains a predominent explanatory importance. Indeed, chronological age1 plays an important role in interaction with opportunities, constraints, and experiences to shape later-life experiences, decisions, and opportunities. The processes of becoming mobile, the kinds of mobility that people take on, and the influence of mobility on family life are all dimensions of mobility that are rooted in life course experiences.

In this chapter, we ask specifically, what is the role of earlier life course mobility in shaping social conditions in midlife? How does earlier life course mobility influence the current level and type of mobility, the aptitudes that enable mobility to happen (motility), and the spatiality of the friendship network? We address these central issues for the understanding of jobrelated mobility by using several retrospective questions that asked respondents about their past experiences of mobility.

14.1 Mobility as a Life Course Issue

Life course researchers study the ways time and place shape individuals and the ways individuals also shape their times and places (Sapin, Spini & Widmer, 2007). Studying the life course means investigating pathways, connections between phases of life and circumstances over time (Moen, 1995; Moen et al., 1992) with the goal of “explaining how dynamic worlds change people and how people select and construct their environments” (Elder, 1995: 102). The life course perspective is marked by a careful consideration of four aspects: human agency, linked lives, historical place and time, and timing (Giele and Elder 1998). Each human being has certain abilities, goals, interests, and skills, a set of resources called human agency. Each individual’s life is linked to others through networks of relationships that have developped over time. Each person at every moment is situated in a particular context: this place at this time. Each person has had specific and unique past experiences. Each person ages, in tandem with historical time. These are the very things that make each human being and each life different from every other.

As unique as individual lives are, nonetheless patterns can be observed, and patterns of later life consequences of earlier life course effects can be seen. For example, we know from family research that second marriages are more likely to end in divorce than first marriages, meaning that people who have experience with divorce are more likely to experience divorce again than those who do not have experience with divorce (Cherlin 1989). Similarly, people whose parents have divorced are also more likely to divorce (Diekmann/Engelhardt 1999). And, parents’ divorce has consequences for the mental health of their children into their 20s and 30s (Cherlin et al 1998); similarly, parents’ cohabitation patterns affect children’s family stability in later life (Raley/Wildsmith 2004). Do the same patterns hold for those who experience high mobility in their early life course?

To apply the life course perspective to mobility questions, we have to consider several aspects. First, when examining human agency in relation to the question of mobility over the life course, we have to be mindful that some individuals have goals of relocating, and others have the goal of remaining in one place. The ability to relocate, motility (see Chapter 13) is influenced by characteristics of the individual such as language proficiency, sensation-seeking behavior, education level, and so on.

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