Long-Distance Commuting over the Life Course and Its Link to Partnership Histories: A French-German Comparison

Heiko Rüger, Federal Institute for Population Research
Gil Viry, University of Edinburgh

Over their careers, many workers resort to various forms of spatial mobility. While internal migration is stagnating or decreasing, there is an increase in long-distance commuting. In a life course approach, spatial mobility and partnership are construed as interrelated life trajectories. On the one hand, commuting can reduce partnership stability because of commuting stress. On the other hand, the existence of an employed partner can increase the likelihood of commuting to combine two workplaces. National contexts are expected to influence how both life trajectories interact through cultural and structural institutions. However, longitudinal and cross-national evidence is largely missing on the links between partnership and work-related spatial mobility. Using retrospective data from France and Germany, this paper examines cross-national differences in how partnership and long-distance commuting histories intersect. The data derive from the second wave of the ''Job Mobilities and Family Lives in Europe'' survey. They include a representative sample of the population in France and Germany aged 40 to 57 and an oversample of highly mobile workers (N=847). We apply techniques of sequence analysis to grasp mobility and partnership experiences holistically as individual histories. Based on whole trajectories we additionally develop indicators that summarise key features of partnership histories. Results show that, among women in Germany, long-term experiences of daily long-distance commuting are associated with a higher number of partners and more complex partnership trajectories. Among women in France, in contrast, commuting is associated with a lower number of partners and a higher number of years without a partner. Among men, the overall relationship between commuting and partnership histories is rather weak in both countries. The findings are discussed in consideration of cross-national differences in social norms, family policies and labour market structure.

In a time of low fertility and high divorce rates in Western countries, there is a concern that travelling over long distances for work affects relationship stability and family development. Over their careers, many workers resort to various forms of spatial mobility. While internal migration is stagnating or decreasing, there is an increase in long-distance commuting. Long-distance commutes often reflect a strong commitment to work and require significant resources in time, money and energy that may conflict with marital and family life. In a life course approach, the association between spatial mobility and family behaviours is construed as a process that unfolds over time. The national contexts are likely to influence this process through cultural and structural institutions, that shape what is seen as appropriate and what is possible for men and women in their ways of balancing work-related mobility and partnership/family development. In some social contexts, research suggests that high mobility requirements increase work-family conflicts, in particular for women. Using data from Germany, Rüger et al. (2011) found that women with long-distance commutes are less likely to be married and to be mothers compared with less-mobile working women. Using data from four European countries, Rüger and Viry (2017) found that long-term experiences of daily long-distance commuting were associated with lower fertility among women in Germany and Switzerland, while the association was weaker or absent in France and Spain. Moreover, intensive work-related travel by women may reduce marital satisfaction in case of traditional gender role attitudes. In this regard, couples who experienced (female) long-distance commuting were found to be less stable (for Sweden: Sandow 2014; for Germany: Kley 2012; for Germany & Switzerland: Viry et al. 2015). At the same time, the existence of a (gainfully employed) partner can increase the likelihood of long-distance commuting, because it helps couples combine two different workplaces (Rüger et al. 2011). However, there is little longitudinal and cross-national evidence on the link between partnership and work-related spatial mobility. Using retrospective data of France and Germany from a European survey, this paper examines cross-national differences in how partnership and long-distance commuting histories intersect. France and Germany are interesting countries to compare in this regard, since both feature high rates of work-related travel but differ considerably in terms of family policy regimes and fertility rates. The data derive from the second wave of the ''Job Mobilities and Family Lives in Europe'' survey (2010/12) (Rüger et al. 2016; doi: 10.4232/1.12644). The sample (N=847) comprises two subsamples: a random sample of the residential population in France and Germany aged 40 to 57 and an oversample of people who were highly mobile at the time of the interview. We apply innovative techniques of sequence analysis to grasp mobility and partnership experiences holistically as individual histories. Optimal matching analysis (OMA) and cluster analysis are used to group together similar sequences. Based on whole trajectories we additionally develop indicators that summarise key features of partnership histories (e.g. number of partners, partnership instability). Results show that, among women in Germany, long-term experiences of daily long-distance commuting are associated with a high number of partners and complex partnership trajectories, which may reflect the increased partnership instability found in the literature. Among women in France, in contrast, long-distance commuting is associated with a lower number of partners and a higher number of years without a partner. Having a partner seems to be an important reason for implementing commuting strategies among German women, while single motherhood is common among female commuters in France. This suggests that being a female long-distance commuter is a different experience in Germany and France. Among men, the overall relationship between commuting and partnership histories is rather weak in both countries. This study is the first to highlight the interrelationship between commuting and partnership histories in a cross-national context. The findings reveal a complex relationship depending on gender and the national context. The findings are discussed with regard to cross-national differences in social norms, family policies and labour market structure.

References

Kley, S. (2012): Gefährdet Pendelmobilität die Stabilität von Paarbeziehungen? Zeitschrift für Soziologie, 41, 356-374.

Rüger, H. Feldhaus, M. Becker, K. S. Schlegel, M. (2011): Circular Job-Related Spatial Mobility in Germany. Comparative Population Studies, 36, 221-248.

Rüger, H.; Pfaff, S.; Skora, T.; Schneider, N.F. (2016): Job Mobilities and Family Lives in Europe – Second Wave. Panel Data Set & Oversampling. BiB Daten und Methodenberichte 3/2016. Wiesbaden.

Rüger, H.; Viry, G. (2017): Work-related Travel over the Life Course and Its Link to Fertility: A Comparison between Four European Countries. European Sociological Review, 33, 645-660.

Sandow, E. (2014): Til work do us part: the social fallacy of long-distance commuting. Urban Studies, 51, 526-543.

Viry, G. Vincent-Geslin, S. Kaufmann, V. (2015): Family development and high mobility: Gender inequality. In: Viry, G. Kaufmann, V. (Eds). High mobility in Europe: Work and personal life. Palgrave, 153-179.

Presented in Session 1132: Life Course