Scottish Longitudinal Study
Development & Support Unit

Current Projects

Project Title:

Mobility and the life-course

Project Number:



David McCollum (University of St Andrews)
Allan Findlay (University of St Andrews)
Glenna Nightingale (University of St Andrews)
Ye Liu (University of St Andrews)

Start Date:

22 Sept 2015



It is well known that migration, being a selective process, generally leads to enhanced life opportunities. Migrants tend to be skilled relative to non-migrants and the places that attract migrants tend to offer favourable opportunities for career enhancement compared to areas with smaller migrant populations. Longitudinal data, in following the same individuals over time, uniquely allows for the study of the interrelationship between spatial and occupational trajectories. Many existing studies, including research conducted by these applicants, have made use of the excellent census-based longitudinal surveys in the UK to examine how migration has corresponded with various occupational and other indicators of wellbeing outcomes. This research confirms that the attributes of places and people are significant in terms of determining occupational outcomes, but that engaging in the act of mobility also enhances life opportunities.

This research will contribute to and advance these understandings in a number of ways. Firstly, the analysis will utilize the recently available 2011 census data. This will allow for the generation of findings that shed light on contemporary patterns of spatial and occupational mobility. Analysis thus far has been based on 1991 and 2001 census data, by including 2011 data this approach will produce much more up to date results. More importantly, the recent extension of the SLS to three censuses (1991, 2001 and 2011) now allows for the analysis of mobility and occupation patterns over a longer time frame than has previously been possible. The proposed research also adds a life course perspective to existing research on the links between occupational and spatial mobility. Thus the much researched spatial-occupational mobility dynamic is to be examined in the context of a focus on factors such as role of age and household status as co-determinants of life opportunities. Finally the research seeks to use a more refined conceptualization of mobility than has been taken in some other studies: the analysis will focus on the distance moved and also the type of place moved to.

Mobility decisions of individuals and households in conjunction with their choice of workplace and residence location have been of growing interest among scholars in recent years. This research will contribute to understanding the complex interactions between the labour market, the housing market and different forms of mobility. The newly available 2011 census data will be particularly enlightening in this respect given the changing geographies of commuting associated with the great recession and claims of a shift towards ‘secular rootedness’ in some countries.


This study aims to explore how mobility affects life opportunities i.e. the relationship between the life course, migration and wellbeing (defined in this instance as occupational and tenure outcomes ). The study will draw on 1991, 2001 and 2011 census data to examine how mobility (to particular types of labour markets and by distance of move) relates to life course by following to particular age cohorts through the SLS from 1991 onwards. The main research question is;

  1. How does mobility affect occupational and tenure outcomes?

This question will investigate the mobility patterns of SLS members based in Scotland in 1991 and aged 36-45 (cohort 1) and 16-25 (cohort 2). The occupational and tenure circumstances in 2001 and 2011 will be considered according to distance of move and type of place moved to.

A secondary research question relates to the migration-commuting threshold. This is how a worker negotiates the relationship between place of work and place of residence.

  1. How has the migration-commuting threshold changed over time?

This question will create a commuting variable to gauge two things. (a) What are average commuting distances, what characteristics are associated with particular types of commuting behavior and how have these dynamics changed between 1991, 2001 and 2011? (b) Secondly we ask how, over time, the relationship between place of work and place of residence changes for some workers.


Cooke, T. (2011). ‘It is not Just the Economy: Declining Migration and the Rise of Secular Rootedness’. Population, Space and Place 17(3). pp 193-203.

Fielding, A. (1992). “Migration and social mobility: South East England as an escalator region,” Regional Studies, vol. 26, no.1, pp. 1–15,

Findlay, A. Mason, C. Houston, D. McCollum. D, and Harrison, R. (2009). ‘Escalators, Elevators and Travelators: The Occupational Mobility of Migrants to South-East England’. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies Vol 35 Issue 6. pp 861-879.

Findlay, A. Mason, C. Harrison, R. Houston, D. and McCollum, D. (2008). ‘Getting off the escalator? A study of Scots out-migration from a global city region’. Environment & Planning A Volume 40 Issue 9. pp 2169-2185.

McCollum, D. (2011). ‘The Demographic and Socio-Economic Profile of Return Migrants and Long-Term In-Migrants in Scotland: Evidence from the Scottish Longitudinal Study’. Scottish Government Social Research. The Scottish Government. Edinburgh.

Mulder, C. and van Ham, M. (2005) “Migration histories and occupational achievement,” Population, Space and Place, vol.11, no. 3, pp. 173–186

Schmidt, C. (2014). ‘Optimal Commuting and Migration Decisions under Commuting Cost Uncertainty’. Urban Studies 51(3). pp 477-492.

Van Ham, M. Findlay, A Manley, D. and Feijten, P. (2012). ‘Migration, Occupational Mobility and Regional Escalators in Scotland’. Urban Studies Research. pp 1-15.

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