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Study sheds new light on job mobility in Europe

An EU-funded study of job-related mobility in Europe reveals a complex picture, in which few people are willing to move away from their native region, yet many are prepared to commute over long distances and embark on regular business trips to meet the mobility requirements of...

An EU-funded study of job-related mobility in Europe reveals a complex picture, in which few people are willing to move away from their native region, yet many are prepared to commute over long distances and embark on regular business trips to meet the mobility requirements of today's job market. The research also reveals the difficulties many parents, particularly mothers, have in reconciling job mobility and family life, and highlights the fact that for many, mobility is not a choice but the only way to earn a livelihood. The study was carried out in the framework of the 'Job mobilities and family lives' project, which was financed through the 'Citizens and governance in a knowledge-based society' Thematic area of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). The final results of the project were presented at an event in the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium on 17 October. The project partners quizzed over 7,000 people of working age in 6 European countries about their attitudes to and experiences of job mobility, as well as its impacts on career and family and social life, as well as personal well-being. The scientists investigated the entire range of mobility, from long-term moves to another region or country, to business trips and daily or weekly commuting. Around half of those interviewed were either currently mobile in some way or had been in the past. The most common form of mobility turned out to be long-distance commuting, with 41% of the mobile interviewees spending at least two hours per day travelling to and from work. A further 29% said they spent more than 60 nights away from home every year for work; this group includes people going on business trips, weekend commuters and seasonal workers. Just 14% had moved to another region of their country for work purposes, while 3% had worked abroad for temporary periods and 2% had migrated. The research also revealed that mobility is not evenly distributed across the population: people with a degree are more likely to be mobile than others; the young are more mobile than older workers; and men are more likely to be mobile than women. Furthermore, while young people and people with a university education would rather relocate, older workers and people without a degree tend to prefer to commute. One very interesting result of the study concerns the impact of parenthood on mobility. In short, mobility appears to reinforce traditional gender roles in the couple; where a father is mobile, the mother tends to take on almost all of housework and childcare duties. Mothers are very rarely mobile, and childless women who are mobile tend to remain childless. The researchers note that these findings pose a number of dilemmas for policy-makers. 'Firstly, job related mobility is usually difficult to combine with being an active parent,' said Project Coordinator Professor Norbert Schneider of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany. 'Increasing mobility may discourage women from starting a family.' In addition to this, the fact that mobility pushes couples back into traditional gender roles puts mobility in conflict with gender equality. 'Policy-makers need to reduce these negative consequences of mobility,' remarked Professor Schneider. For many people, mobility is a largely positive experience; however, for around a fifth of mobile workers, it is not a choice, but the only way to earn a living. These workers tend to be less satisfied with their experience of mobility. What's more, these people are less likely to have the costs of mobility (such as moving costs and travel) paid for by their employer than people who choose to be mobile workers. 'In times of rising demands to become professionally mobile, politics and business are called upon to develop new strategies to encourage Europeans' mobility and at the same time minimise the negative consequences of enhanced mobility,' concluded Professor Schneider. For example, policy-makers could improve transport infrastructures to reduce commuting times, and enhance access to childcare facilities, to make it easier for workers to combine parenthood and job mobility. For their part, employers could do their best to avoid unnecessary mobility requirements and allow their workers to work more flexible hours or to work from home.

Countries

Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, France, Poland

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