Mobility and Social Participation of the Elderly in Suburbia: a Gender-related Analysis in Berlin and Its Hinterland

Mobility and Social Participation of the Elderly in Suburbia: a Gender-related Analysis in Berlin and Its Hinterland


C Rahn, F Giesel, Institute of Transport Research, German Aerospace Center (DLR), DE


Social participation of the elderly in monofunctional areas is at risk. For suburban regions of Berlin, we show to what extent especially older women are affected by socio-spatial exclusion.


Demographic change can be described as the societal megatrend in western societies and it is widely discussed in public as well as in science (Bond et al. 2007; Weber et al. 2010). Many developed countries are affected by declining fertility rates in combination with rising longevity. Furthermore, the baby boomers generation has started to retire, so the growing demographic group of the elderly becomes more and more important. Because of these circumstances many countries will be facing the challenges of demographic change in the next decades (Leveille et al. 2008).

Against this background, mobility issues become very important. Especially for older people daily outdoor activities are essential not only to maintain physical competence but also for the participation in social and cultural life. In this sense, mobility is one important key factor for individual well-being and quality of life (Schaie 2003; Simonsick et al. 2005; Dickerson et al. 2007).

With rising age, the physical competence decreases more and more. This leads to action spaces only extending over short distances from the residential area. This concentration on spatial proximity is worsened by low income. According to this, the nearby living environment becomes the central spatial context of old and disadvantaged people. Therefore, it is very important to ensure the access to age-related facilities in so called "aging areas" (Lucas 2004; Föbker & Grotz 2006). Especially in monofunctional and peripheral areas the social participation of the elderly could be at risk (Clifton & Lucas 2004; Grieco 2007; Preston & Rajé 2007). Particularly in times of global economy crisis these circumstances will be exacerbated.

In this context, gender differences also need to be considered. Compared to men, older women often have to live under conditions of poverty and physical constraints due to multimorbidity (Ahacic et al. 2000). Thus, they are affected by multiple disadvantages and more prone to a so-called "socio-spatial exclusion" (Hine & Mitchell 2001; Ortoleva & Brenman 2004).

Various researches dealing with issues of social participation either focus on deprived urban areas or rural areas where due to shrinking processes the access of older people to facilities is obviously restricted (e.g. Nutley 1996; Farrington & Farrington 2005). But what about the suburban area? To which extent are older people, especially older women, threatened by socio-spatial exclusion in these environments?

In order to answer these questions, it is important to investigate how do older residents of suburbia, classified by socioeconomic characteristics, age and gender, organize their everyday life including mobility compared to the elderly in Berlin and how do suburban residents perceive their home environment in terms of physical as well as social "resources".

These issues will be investigated for the case of Berlin and its suburban region. The differences in travel behaviour between the population of the city of Berlin and the outlying districts will be pointed out based on the representative Germany-wide mobility survey "Mobility in Germany 2008" (funded by the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Affairs). This is a large sample of 25,000 households, including regional add-ons of even almost 50,000 participating households.

In addition, a small-scale dataset was analyzed which was carried out through questionnaires (n=1,136) and qualitative interviews (n=20). This survey was conducted in the course of the research project "Post-suburban daily mobility in the Berlin region", situated at the Geographical Institute of Humboldt University Berlin (funded by Research Funding Organization of Germany). This latter data gives a detailed insight into travel behaviour of the elderly in selected suburban areas. Here, a deeper understanding of motives and the evaluation of their home environment could be given.

Since reasons for socio-spatial exclusion according to mobility issues will be different in suburban areas as compared to urban cores, this presentation aims at giving some practical suggestions how to improve social participation of the elderly in these specific environments.


Association for European Transport