Residential mobility across the life course: Continuity and change across three cohorts in Britain

© 2016 The Authors Although a buoyant literature has emerged examining residential mobility across sections of the life course, a full life course perspective has remained lacking. This paper exploits an as yet under-used data source – the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing – to achieve this. The lifetime residential mobility trajectories of older men and women in three birth cohorts born between 1918 and 1947 are compared, examining how these are associated with changes in cohort members’ socio-historical contexts, and life course events in the domains of employment, partnership and fertility. Results indicate that change in residential mobility between cohorts is gendered, with persistent continuity between male cohorts, and marked change between female cohorts. Such gender differentials are particularly notable during young adulthood, highlighting the significance of de-standardising pathways to adulthood and the changing role of women in society. Generalised mobility pathways from birth to age 60 for men and women are identified using sequence analysis, and the paper discusses how these may be associated with contextual changes and life course characteristics. In conclusion, the research reflects on the benefits of the life course perspective for understanding the complexities of residential mobility, and the importance of socio-historical context in understanding trends and patterns in this area.