What do Master’s Students in Urban Planning Occupy Themselves With?

This spring Lior and I both graduated from the research Master’s program Urban and Regional Planning at the Human Geography department of Stockholm University. For half a year, we put our blood, sweat, and tears into our final projects. Knowing that my professors, and some fellow students, would probably be the only ones ever reading the results of my work felt wrong. Much rather I would share what it is that a graduate student of our discipline might do. In short, we dig ourselves into a tiny über-specialized part of our field, leaving us with the thought: “Did I really need half a year to answer this single question!?!”

Elderly and mobility, by Sascha Benes

Elderly and mobility, by Sascha Benes

The aim of my thesis was to get a better understanding of what it is that makes elderly people want to move. I had the idea that people who perceive themselves as car dependent might be more likely to have moving plans than other elderly. This is, it thought, because the preconditions of their living environment are altered as soon as they lose their ability to drive. All of a sudden, a place, which was easy to reach by car, becomes hard to reach with alternative transportation. The fear of this change might lead people to be more positive toward moving to another apartment.  I found both acceptance and rejection of this idea in existing research, but it had never been proven statistically. The results of my research show that when an elderly person perceives oneself as being car-dependent, he or she is more likely to have concrete moving plans. Besides having concrete plans, perceived car dependence also increases the likelihood that an elderly person is doubting if they can continue living in their current dwelling.

But without further ado, the introduction to my thesis:

1 Introduction

Most elderly people do not move, but in Sweden about 25 percent of them do move (Angelini & Laferrère, 2010), which makes Sweden the country with the highest elderly residential mobility in Europe. What is it that makes older Swedes want to move? Where do the elderly want to live? These are questions that become more important in a greying and urbanising world. With relatively new policies, like aging in place, do greying societies try to keep care costs low and influence the elderly to stay as long as possible in the regular housing market. A recent Swedish government directive (Dir. 2014:44) emphasizes the challenges of this greying society and the need to understand its effects, in order to find new solutions.

A study conducted on the Swedish countryside identified three reasons why the elderly wanted to move: the house was too large, problems with stairs, and car dependency (Svensson, Ståhl, and Wretstrand, 2012). In an English study, it was mentioned that car dependency does not have an effect on the elderly’s will to move (Lucas, 2009). These two contradictive conclusions are based on two qualitative studies. During a search of the existing literature, no quantitative study was found that has tested if car-dependence can predict the elderly’s will to move.

The debate on Residential Self Selection, which describes how a person’s residential location influences his or her mobility pattern seems to come closest to the phenomena that will be described in this thesis. In this debate, Scheiner (2006) argues that mobility patterns can also create the desire to change the place of residence due to changes in the life cycle. For instance, when a person is confronted with a disappearing bus connection, or loses the ability to drive, the living conditions of that person are changed. Locations that might have been nearby before, can all of a sudden be hard to reach.

These changed conditions mean that the residential satisfaction of a person can decrease. Spear (1974) argues that the desire to move stems from changes in the social bonds, individual and locational characteristics, mediated by the individual’s residential satisfaction. The evaluation of the individual’s residential satisfaction is, because of its personal nature, hard to measure objectively. When can we identify when someone is car-dependent? When is the distance to a family member or a supermarket far away or nearby? Because the answers to these questions differ based on the complex sets of individual characteristics and preferences, the concepts of relative distance and perceived car-dependence are used in this thesis, which measure the respondent’s attitudes towards distance and car-dependence respectively. Also, by using the respondent's’ attitude, instead of predefining when people are car-dependent or live far from the places they need to go, it can better accommodate each individual’s experience.

This led me to the following aim: to find out whether perceived car-dependence predicts the moving plans of elderly Swedes. Also, if such predictive power by perceived car-dependence is found, if this predictive power differs among different geographical areas (i.e. rural, urban, or smaller community) and elderly age groups. Based on this aim the following questions are constructed: ‘1. Does perceived car-dependence predict the moving plans of elderly Swedes?’, ‘2. Does the geographical area of residence matter when it comes to the predictive power of perceived car-dependence on the moving plans of elderly swedes?’, and ‘3. Does age (i.e. 10 year cohorts) matter when it comes to the predictive power of perceived car-dependence on the moving plans of elderly Swedes?’.

The aim, and the questions that are derived from it, are to be examined by conducting multinomial regression analyses. Eight models have been designed to test the predictive power of perceived car-dependence on the elderly’s plans to move, while controlling for other more commonly used variables.

The results show that perceived car-dependence is a significant predictor of the moving plans of elderly Swedes. In all three areas (urban, smaller communities, rural) perceiving oneself as being car-dependent increases the likelihood of having concrete moving plans, and it increases uncertainty if a move might be necessary. Also, in all ages perceived car-dependence increases the likelihood that one has concrete moving plans, and doubts if one can continue living in one’s current dwelling.

Read more: http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:su:diva-118626 (Available from 2015-08-30)


Written by Sascha Benes. Follow him on Twitter, Linkedin and .