Clustering Life Course to Understand the Heterogeneous Effects of Life Events, Gender, and Generation on Habitual Travel Modes
Daily transportation mode choice is largely habitual, but transitions between life events may disrupt travel habits and can shift choices between alternative transportation modes. Although much is known about general mode switches following life event transitions, less is understood about differences that may exist between subpopulations, especially from a long-term perspective. Understanding these differences will help planners and policymakers introduce more targeted policy interventions to promote sustainable transportation modes and inform longer-term predictions. Extending beyond existing literature, we use data collected from a retrospective survey to investigate the effects of life course events on mode use situated within different long-term life trajectory contexts. We apply a machine-learning method called joint social sequence clustering to define five distinct and interpretable cohorts based on trajectory patterns in family and career domains over their life courses. We use these patterns as an innovative contextual system to investigate (1) the heterogeneous effects of life events on travel mode use and (2) further differentiation between gender and generation groups in these life event effects. We find that events occurring relatively early in life are more strongly associated with changes in mode-use behavior, and that mode use can also be affected by the relative order of events. This timing and order effect can have lasting impacts on mode use aggregated over entire life cycles: members of our “Have-it-alls” cohort—who finish their education, start working, partner up, and have children early in life—ramp up car use at each event, resulting in the highest rate of car use occurring the earliest among all the cohorts. Women drive more when having children primarily when their family formation and career formation are intertwined early in life, and younger generations rely relatively more on car use during familial events when their careers have a later start.