So this is not a particularly profound point perhaps but anyhow…perhaps some preamble will help.
Over the last few months I’ve been leading a project looking at the impacts of transportation and mobility on the lives of older people in rural Ireland.
One key aspect of research into older people is social isolation. To a large degree this work has focused on issues of sociality and social networks. This is a good thing. It is pretty thoroughly validated that social engagement has positive physical and mental health outcomes for older people. Our work on mobility has been a bit more focused on geographical or spatial aspects of isolation. Of course the two overlap. If you can’t get from your home to someone else’s house your social connectivity will be impacted. This seems really important in Ireland which is a very rural country. Older people, particularly older women are becoming increasingly isolated.
Car ownership levels are low in Ireland.Ireland country-region> has one of the lowest levels of car ownership in the EU (391 per 1000 population in 2004), compared to the UK (447 per 1000 in 2002) and the EU15 (491 per 1000 in 2002).
However, according the National Spatial Strategy (2002-2020), the number of cars on Ireland’s roads could double between 1996 and 2016, potentially resulting in ownership rates of near the top end of the EU15 by 2020. In this context of increased mobility through private transport, people are living further from places of work, (aggregate miles travelled to work rose by over 10% per annum between 1996 and 2002) which has one important impact on older people. As those around them have increased access to private transport, elderly people experience an emptying out of the countryside during the day (a phenomenon many informants noted already). Increasing car ownership also limits the potential effectiveness of public transport investment. Mobility can thus be viewed as relative: as those around them, the young generations, become more mobile, older people become, or feel, ever more cut off.
The second, related point is that remote is relative too. It struck me speaking to woman in Athboy that she felt really isolated. This related to lack of public transport available to get into places like Navan (which is only 11 miles away) and has all the things she needs – dentists, doctors, shopping etc. However, if you’re physically connected through good transport a sense of isolation soon starts to dissolve.
We will be releasing the report based on this 5 weeks of ethnography later in June. Let me know if you’re interested in getting a copy when it is available.