Geographical Mobility and Family Life: Comparing Generations from a Life Course Perspective

Karin Wall, Sofia Aboim, Vasco Ramos, Cátia Nunes


Geographical mobility is a well-established trend in European societies, and social theorists have put forward the hypothesis that mobility patterns have an impact on family trajectories and on their processes of pluralisation and individualisation. Using a life course perspective, the main aim of this article is to provide evidence of the impact of geographical mobility on family life in Portuguese society. The mobility and family trajectories of three different generations in their early adulthood are analysed, with results pointing to a diversity of trajectories as well as to relevant connections between mobility variables and family trajectories. The article draws on data from a national survey on life trajectories conducted in 2010 on a representative sample of men and women (n=1,500) from three generations (born between 1935 and 1940; 1950 and 1955; and 1970 and 1975; n=500 per generation). Based on sequence and cluster analyses, we were able to identify seven patterns of mobility trajectories and four main types of family trajectories across the three generations. These reflect not only the biographies of individuals within our sample, but also the geographical and family changes that have been taking place in Portugal over the past few decades. Drawing on multinomial regression analysis, the article seeks to disentangle the complex linkages between mobility and family trajectories. To this end, we adopted a double angle approach by linking these two variables as predictors of each other alongside other key socio-demographic variables and life course events. The main findings reveal that geographical mobility is a significant predictor of family trajectories, even if its effects are dualistic: Mobility may work as a facilitator of standardised family trajectories (early transition to parenthood, for example), but it also predicts a higher probability of “non-linear” family trajectories. On the other hand, family trajectories are weak predictors of mobility trajectories. The latter are predicted by variables that reflect structural constraints, such as unemployment, but gender and generation effects also play an important role and provide evidence that mobility trajectories are anchored in specific historic and social contexts. Finally, we were also able to link geographical mobility to individualisation processes by examining its impact upon specific life course events related to family and gender relations.


Geographical mobility; Migration patterns; Family trajectories; Life course; Individualisation

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