chapter  3
11 Pages

Moving between generations? The role of familial inter-generational relations in older people’s mobility


Drawing on new data from a study of mobilities and well-being experienced through transition management, this chapter takes a relational approach to consider the value of familial inter-generational activities in the context of mobilities. The chapter draws on existing literature and on new empirical data. This includes interviews with a sample of fifty-one people aged 55+ in three sites in northern England, carried out in spring and summer 2014. The chapter concludes by considering the implications of our findings in light of the growing number of people who will age without children, and therefore whose inter-generational connections will need to be built beyond traditional family networks. If there is a marked ‘mobilities turn’ in social sciences, mobilities has also

played a part in creating a new paradigm of ageing. For if social science ‘treats as normal stability, meaning and place’ (Sheller and Urry 2006, 208) then the ‘good’ old age has been characterised as static, emplaced (often in the home setting) and feeding off deep roots in small places. New paradigms of ageing have emerged in which the ‘third age’ is built on a diversity of postwork lifestyle options and freedoms built from consumption that blur ideas about a fixed life-course with a predictable post-retirement pattern (see Gilleard and Higgs 2000). Within this, the freedom to be mobile is critically associated with independence and choice-making, with a normative expectation of automobility1 and aero-mobility for a group that grew up with the emergence of the package holiday. Within social policy, the mobility of older people is also understood as connectivity to social, intellectual and cultural stimuli, while mobility as exercise is seen as part of the recipe to keep older people active and, significant in this argument, from bearing down too heavily on pressed NHS resources. Various commentators have deepened our understanding of the notion of

mobility, and developed nuanced insights into how the concept is experienced in later life (Nordbakke and Schwanen 2014; Parkhurst et al. 2012; Prohaska et al. 2011; Ziegler and Schwanen 2011). Recent work has reviewed what is known about the different dimensions and facets of mobility, drawing upon a

wide range of perspectives to inform how the term can be defined and conceptualised (Stjernborg et al. 2014). Some definitions of mobility focus on the physical ability to move limbs and to move the body, for example to walk over short distances and to be able to use public transport. ‘Mobility dependency’ has been defined as needing help or being unable to walk 400 yards, climb up or down stairs, or get on a bus (Ayis et al. 2006). Others measure mobility in terms of calories consumed (Sawatzky et al. 2007), or the number of trips or distance travelled. Here, mobility can operate at national or global scale, assisted by planes and other technologies, while at the smallest scale ‘micromobilities’ include ‘taking a couple of steps on one’s property, supervising maintenance work, conversing with neighbours’ (Lord et al. 2011, 58). A number of mobility measures assess the actual ‘life space’ experienced such as rooms or places visited (e.g. Peel et al. 2005; Zeitler et al. 2012). Others measure resources for mobility such as access to cars and to social networks (e.g. Gagliardi et al. 2007). Alternatively, mobility can be seen as a latent capacity, and potentially as one incorporating a subjective element: for example, as ‘the ability to choose where, when and which activities to take part in outside the home in everyday life’ (Nordbakke 2013, 166). Whichever definitions are used, mobility tends to vary with age. For

example, only 4 per cent of those aged 16-49 have a ‘mobility difficulty’, but this rises to 10 per cent of those aged 50-59, 18 per cent of those aged 60-69, and 38 per cent of those aged over 70. Annual distance travelled per year peaks in the 40s and then declines. The number of trips people make per year peaks in the 50s and then declines (Department for Transport 2011). Nevertheless, Hjorthol (2013) concluded that whilst the desired level of activity may diminish in later life, the importance of mobility for older people does not diminish. However, whilst mobility is clearly affected by health (Fristedt et al. 2014), research has also emphasised a wide range of other factors including gender, household type, employment circumstances, income and access to transport services. Webber et al. (2010) encapsulated these dimensions in a model that puts forward seven life-space locations, ranging from the room in which an individual sleeps to the wider world, each of which is composed of mobility determinants related to financial, psychosocial, environmental, physical and cognitive factors. Finally, they suggest that gender, biographical and cultural influences exert an influence on all five determinants. Linked with these latter influences, Manderscheid (2014) has argued that too often movement has been conceptualised as the product of individual decisions by autonomous agents. She contests the autonomy of the solo traveller and calls for a relational approach to mobility that pays attention to how a person’s choice of travel route and travel mode is shaped by the mobility practices and representations of others, belonging to their family or social network. Thus, while mobility is often seen as determined by a combination of indi-

vidual physical functions, car ownership and transport systems, in this chapter we consider the mobilities of older people through a relational approach that explores the nature and extent to which the families, generations and

networks in which older people are embedded promote or inhibit their mobility (see Hopkins and Pain 2007 for a discussion of the benefits of thinking relationally about age). Mobility can be caused by, enabled by or otherwise linked to social relations, duties and motivation. In practice, social relations provide a major motive for mobility, through companionship on journeys for pleasure and by providing destinations. Social relations can also affect people’s ability to act on motives for travel, for example, by providing confidence and support, as well as practical assistance such as lifts in cars, pushing a wheelchair or help with fares. The nature or absence of social relations can also play an inhibiting role, where others’ wants, needs or restricted mobility may have a negative impact on mobility, or if people have no-one to visit or to travel with. Further, the attitudes of others may also either inhibit or encourage the potential for mobility. Inter-generational relations are distinct from relations with contemporaries

and peer group. The term inter-generational encapsulates a broad sweep of social relations that may be familial, but can also be non-familial in nature (including friends or other forms of social contact). In this chapter we focus on ‘familial inter-generational’ where the relationship can be with parents, children and grandchildren.