It is widely believed within and beyond academia that mobility is closely interlinked with freedom, independence and wellbeing. With ageing, functional capacities are often reduced; walking and cycling become more demanding and travelling by public transport and driving a car more challenging. This reduced capacity for mobility is likely to adversely affect wellbeing in later life.
The population in the Western world is ageing. This trend will present a range of challenges for many policy fields, including transport. Therefore, there is a need for knowledge on how to provide for independent travel and mobility in old age and on their associations with wellbeing.
This thesis has three objectives: to develop a theoretical framework for understanding the link between wellbeing and mobility and to critically examine and position previous conceptualisations of wellbeing in research on mobility in later life within this framework; to develop potential explanations for variations in needs fulfilment and wellbeing, mediated through mobility, in old age; and to provide insights on how mobility in later life is shaped and mediated. For the first purpose a theoretical study was carried out, while empirical investigations were conducted to achieve the second and the third purpose. The thesis is presented in four papers.
Paper I identifies three dimensions that can be used to clarify key differences between conceptualisations of wellbeing in economics, psychology, sociology, health research, human geography, and gerontology:
- Objective and subjective approaches
- Hedonic and eudaimonic approaches
- Universalist and contextualist approaches
The literature reveals multiple approaches to the study of human wellbeing and quality of life. Paper I discusses ten of these and explains how they relate to the introduced dimensions of wellbeing. Moreover, these ten approaches are used as lenses to develop hypotheses about possible linkages between wellbeing and mobility and how these can be understood and explored in empirical research on older people and other social groups. Finally, a total of 27 empirical studies on the link between mobility and wellbeing in later life were identified. These were critically examined and positioned within different conceptualizations of wellbeing. One conclusion from the examination of these studies is that although they all show that potential and/or actual movement contribute to wellbeing in later life, what wellbeing is and means is often not problematized. Discussions of wellbeing qua concept are often short (if present at all) and frequently lack theoretical depth. The second conclusion is that most empirical studies on mobility and wellbeing in later life belong to the subjective approach. Moreover, even though some of the reviewed studies touched upon eudaimonic elements, most can be allocated to the hedonic stance. And most can be allocated to the moderately universalist tradition.
The conclusions from paper I inform the conceptualization of the linkages between wellbeing and mobility in the empirical part of the thesis (paper II, III, 9 and IV). In this part, wellbeing is defined in terms of needs fulfilment. The basic assumption is that out-of-home activities and actual movement can contribute to the fulfilment of the needs along the dimensions to have, to love and to be, as defined by Allardt (1975). While actual out-of-home activity participation is used as an indicator of objective needs fulfilment, experienced unmet activity needs is used as an indicator of subjective needs fulfilment. As out-of-home activity participation induces travel between different geographical locations, a theoretical framework was developed to understand mobility, inspired Elster’s understanding of action (Elster, 1989). This framework assumes a dialectical relationship between agency and structure, in line with scholars such as Berger and Luckman (1966) and Giddens (1984). Within this framework, mobility in old age is understood as the result of ‘opportunities for mobility’ – defined as the interplay between an individual’s resources and abilities and the contextual conditions for mobility – and his or her individual desires and preferences for mobility.
A mixed methods approach was used to explore potential explanations for needs fulfilment, as mediated through mobility and to explore how opportunities for mobility, mobility and needs fulfilment is shaped and mediated in old age. While the analysis in paper II is based on results from four focus groups of women aged 67 to 89 living in Oslo, Norway’s capital, the studies reported in paper III and IV are based on a national representative survey among 4723 people in Norway age 67 and older. The results from the qualitative and quantitative examinations can be summarized as follows:
Opportunities for mobility, defined as the interplay between individual resources and abilities and contextual conditions for mobility, can to some extent explain variations in needs fulfilment.
- Results from the quantitative studies suggest that the following indicators of individual abilities and contextual conditions are associated with better needs fulfilment, when all else equal: holding a driving license, good health (several indicators), financial resources, living alone, access to company on activities, temporal resources, the quality of the public transport supply, and residential location.
- Results from the qualitative study suggest that “having control of time” and “competence and knowledge about the transport system” are important resources for being able to attend desired activities. Barriers for participating in desired activities relate not only to the transport infrastructure/supply, but also to the destination end of trips (such as parking facilities, timing of an activity, entrance barriers to buildings). These findings suggest that the whole journey, including characteristics of activities and their facilities should be accounted for in order to understand older people’s opportunities for mobility.
- The qualitative study also shows that older people can actively shape and mediate their opportunities for mobility and that the strategies developed to overcome barriers become part of their individual abilities for mobility which widen their opportunities for mobility.
People make choices according to their preferences within what they perceive as their opportunities for mobility. When it comes to desires and preferences, older people are just as different as the rest of the population. Therefore, the extent to which older persons will experience their needs being met through out-of-home activity participation will vary.
- Preferences are not invariant, they change and shift over time, in relation to both context and perceived level of resources that can be mobilized to enact certain behaviours.
- Although constraints can account for most of the variations in needs fulfilment, in addition to preferences for out-of-home activity participation, age alone has a significant effect on the extent of outof-home activity participation, suggesting that some older people see withdrawal from social activity and participation as a natural part of ageing.
The extent to which people experience that their needs for out-of-home activities are not being met is also associated with the level of actual out-of-home activity participation, which is shaped by an individual’s opportunities for mobility in important ways, and outlook on life (overall life satisfaction).
The main conclusion from this thesis is that the extent to which out-of-home activity participation can fulfil needs varies between individuals, depending on their preferences and outlook on life, as well as the interplay between their individual strategies, individual resources and abilities, and contextual conditions.
List of papers I-IV. The papers are removed from the thesis due to publisher restrictions.
Paper I Nordbakke, S., Schwanen, T., 2013. Well-being and Mobility: A Theoretical Framework and Literature Review Focusing on Older People. Mobilities. doi:10.1080/17450101.2013.784542
Paper II Nordbakke, S., 2013. Capabilities for mobility among urban older women: barriers, strategies and options. Journal of Transport Geography, 26, 166-174. doi:10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2012.10.003
Paper III Nordbakke, S., 2013. Mobility in old age: a result of choices within given opportunities. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, [Submitted].
Paper IV Nordbakke, S., Schwanen, T., 2013. Transport, unmet activity needs and wellbeing in later life – exploring the links. Transportation, [Submitted].