Influences of personal and mobility characteristics on social activity patterns of the aging population : a latent class analysis

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The ageing of the population poses challenges for urban and transport planners to create living environments that support quality of life of older adults. This implies that opportunities for social contacts should be created. Compared to their younger counterparts, older adults are less mobile, spend more time at home, and participate in fewer social settings (e.g. work, school or sports clubs), which probably makes them more reliant on their neighborhood for social contacts. Neighborhood services and facilities such as shops, sports facilities, cafés and restaurants, community centers, and recreational areas can provide opportunities for social contacts among residents. However, the number of local facilities is decreasing due to increasing mobility, regionalization, Internet-use, and demographic decline in certain areas. This may have negative outcomes for the social participation of older adults and consequently their quality of life. For successful planning for the aging population, more insight is needed in the extent to which social contacts take place at different (local) facilities. The aim of this study therefore is to analyze the diversity of older adults’ preferences for different social activity location types and the relationship between these preferences and personal and mobility characteristics. The data for this study were collected using a two-day social interaction diary and a questionnaire. In the diary respondents were asked for a number of different types of locations whether they had visited that location and whether they had had contact with other persons at that location. For each contact they were asked to indicate start and end time, whether the interaction was preplanned, routine or spontaneous, with whom they interacted, the purpose of the interaction, and how important the interaction was for them. The data were collected in several towns in Noord-Limburg, which is located in the southeast of the Netherlands. The area inhabits 280,600 people, out of whom 18% is 65 or over. The area is expecting a demographic decline and increased ageing, which is expected to result in 3% less inhabitants in 2030, out of whom 28% will be 65 and over. The data were collected between January and March 2014 using a deliver and pick up procedure, which resulted in a good response. The sample consists of 213 respondents aged 65 or over. Out of these respondents, 22 (10%) did not record any social interactions in two days. The other 191 recorded a total of 1029 social interactions. The respondents who did not record any interactions are considered as a separate segment. To segment the other respondents regarding their social interaction location choices, a latent class multinomial logit model is used. The locations where social interaction took place are classified in seven different types: home location; public space or park; shop or service facility; community center; sports facility; bar or restaurant; and other. The results show that three latent classes can be identified. The first segment can be labeled as home socializers. This segment mainly has social contact at their own or other persons’ home. This segment contains 65% of the respondents. The second segment is described as third place socializers and contains 8% of the respondents. This segment is less likely to socialize at home and more likely than average to socialize at all other six types of locations. Shops and services have the highest parameter, followed by public space or park. The third segment, consisting of 16% of the respondents, can be labeled community center socializers, as they are most likely to socialize at this type of location. The fourth segment (10%) is made up of the respondents who did not record any interactions and is labeled non-socializers. Relationships between segment membership and personal and mobility characteristics were tested using cross-tabulations with chi-square tests and analyses of variance. The results show significant differences between the segments regarding age, education, income, household composition, volunteering, perceived loneliness and health. The third place socializers are younger, wealthier, healthier, higher educated, and more likely to live with a partner, whereas the non-socializers are older, lower educated, more often single, more often lonely and less healthy. The community center socializers are most likely to have a low income, live alone and live in suburban areas. Regarding mobility the results show significant differences between the segments as well. The results suggest that all third place socializers walk and drive, and the majority cycles and uses public transport, whereas only half of the non-socializers uses a car or bicycle, 9% uses public transport and 73% ever walks. The results suggest that, in addition to personal characteristics, mobility plays an important role in social activity patterns of older adults. These findings are relevant for local governments and planners. In order to support ageing in place with sufficient quality of life, residential environments should provide the necessary opportunities for social interaction of various segments of the aging population.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the International Association of Travel Behavior Research (IATBR), 19-23 July 2015, Windsor, United Kingdom
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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