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Intra-European Irish Commuter Households' Mobility/Immobility Strategies

Final Report Summary - IEICHMIS (Intra-European Irish Commuter Households' Mobility/Immobility Strategies)

The Intra-European Irish Commuter Households Mobility/Immobility Strategies (IEICHMIS) project set out in March 2013 to examine the lives of a growing population of European Union citizens it termed “Euro-commuters”. The IEICHMIS project defined Euro-commuters as mobile EU citizens who live in one EU country but work in another, and commute between the two on a routine basis.

The IEICHMIS project set out to examine who was undertaking this relatively novel form of intra-European mobility, what their motivations for undertaking it were, and what impacts this chronic to-and-fro movement between two EU countries had on their personal, social, family and working lives. In attempting to answer this interlinked set of questions the IEICHMIS project took an interdisciplinary approach – the disciplines of sociology, human geography, social anthropology, mobilities studies and urban studies were drawn upon throughout the research process.

It was decided that qualitative techniques were the most appropriate method in answering the above research questions. Mapping the scale of Euro-commuting was not the chief aim of the IEICHMIS project; interpreting the subjective meanings that mobile EU citizens give to their commuter mobility was. To this end, thirty-seven in-depth, semi-structured interviews were carried out with Euro-commuters. Fifteen interviews with Euro-commuters’ non-commuter partners were also carried out. This dual focus on both the commuter and the non-commuter partner in Euro-commuter couples allowed the IEICHMIS project to also focus on household decision-making dynamics around mobility decisions, the domestic division of labour, and childcare allocation.

All participants recruited to take part in the project had a principal residence in the Republic of Ireland (ROI). It was decided that the ROI would make a suitable location from which to study the Euro-commuting phenomenon for the main reason that the severe economic crisis that hit the country from 2008 onwards was likely to have swelled the numbers of those undertaking this commuter-type mobility.

Analysis of the IEICHMIS semi-structured interviews produced a number of results. The first was a general profile of Euro-commuters, as follows. Euro-commuters were all tertiary-level educated, from similar socio-occupational backgrounds. Namely, they were all middle-class professionals, working in occupations like banking, accountancy, finance, law, media, academia, medicine. They were all involved in long-term relationships with partners resident in the ROI, and most were married with children of school-going age. London was the most popular commuter destination among the IEICHMIS sample, but other continental European destinations also featured regularly – Paris, Frankfurt, Brussels, Milan, Stockholm.

But a more detailed picture of Euro-commuters emerged beyond this general profile. The chief finding here was a three-part typology of Euro-commuters to emerge from the analysis. That is to say, there were three main types or categories of Euro-commuter involved in this to-and-fro mobility. The first type or category of Euro-commuters the IEICHMIS project identified were those it termed “thrivers”. Thrivers were EU citizens who voluntarily commuted between the ROI and another EU state. In other words, they were not commuting because of unemployment or under-employment as a consequence of the Eurozone economic downturn. Thriver respondents Euro-commuted as a matter of lifestyle – they claimed that by living between two countries they were able to optimize their work, personal and family lives. Their movement could also be termed “lifestyle migration”. Among the IEICHMIS sample, thrivers were a minority.

The second type or category of Euro-commuter identified by the IEICHMIS project were “strivers”. Strivers’ principal motivation for Euro-commuting was directly linked to career progression. All strivers insisted that they could not gain career promotion in the ROI – so in order to achieve this they found work overseas, then commuted back routinely to the ROI, mostly at weekends. Strivers’ movement could be termed “career migration”. Among the IEICHMIS sample, strivers were also a minority.

The majority voice in the IEICHMIS sample, however, were those the project termed “survivors”. Survivors were those whose principal motivation for Euro-commuting was related to economic circumstances. Survivors had undergone unemployment or under-employment in the ROI in the wake of the economic downturn. To restore their pre-crisis levels of income, and consequently their pre-crisis standard of living, survivors secured well-remunerated work overseas, then commuted back to the ROI, again mostly at weekends. Survivors’ movement could be termed “livelihood migration”.

Another significant finding was that among survivors, decision-making dynamics around mobility decisions were most fraught and complicated. In a number of instances the non-commuting partners of survivor commuters did not necessarily support the decision to become a dual-residence, commuter household. The main reason proffered for this was that establishing such an unconventional household would necessitate a major redrawing of domestic caring and housework responsibilities – especially in instances where young children were involved. And another notable finding among survivor couples was the gendered nature of their mobility strategies. In every instance among survivor households, the commuting partner was male and the non-commuting partner was female. Among striver and thriver households this was not the case – the commuter and non-commuter partners were a mix of genders.

These results will be of interest to numerous groups. First and foremost, for the growing population of EU movers who live in one EU country but work in another, and commute between the two routinely – the results of the IEICHMIS project will be of especial interest to them, as they detail many of the trials, tribulations and future possibilities for this type of mobility. Second, the IEICHMIS results will be of particular relevance to a range of national and European policy makers. As this population of EU citizens continues to grow, it is important that policy makers across the EU28 not only celebrate the social benefits of EU mobility but also consider the social costs accompanying some of this free movement. The IEICHMIS project documents in detail the social costs accompanying Euro-commuting. It is important that the relevant national and EU policy makers are made aware of these costs.

The IEICHMIS project was carried out by Dr. David Ralph with the support of an EU FP7 Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship (2013-14), and was hosted by the Institute for Social Sciences in the 21st Century at University College Cork, Ireland.