Frequent moves tough on poor children

CORNELL (US) — Children who move three or more times before they turn five have more behavioral problems than their peers—but only if they are from low-income families, a new study reports.

These children have more attention problems, anxiety, or depression and are more aggressive or hyperactive at age 5 than those who had moved once, twice, or not at all.

“This suggests that frequent moves early in life are most disruptive for the most disadvantaged children,” says Kathleen Ziol-Guest, postdoctoral associate in policy analysis and management at Cornell University.


Moving is a fairly common experience for American families. In 2002, 10 percent of low-income children—and 6.5 percent of all children—had been living in their current home for less than six months. Also in 2002, 24 percent of families below poverty and 13 percent of families above poverty had moved once.

To understand how frequent moves relate to children’s readiness for school, researchers analyzed national data on 2,810 children from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a longitudinal, representative study of children born in 20 large US cities between 1998 and 2000.

Parents were interviewed shortly after the birth of their children and by phone when the children were one, three, and five years old and in-home assessments were done when the children were three and five years old. The study, published online in Child Development, also looked at the children’s language and literacy outcomes, as well as behavior problems reported by mothers.

Of the participants, 23 percent of the children had never moved, 48 percent had moved once or twice, and 29 percent had moved three or more times.

Among children who moved three or more times before age five, nearly half (44 percent) were poor as defined using the official federal threshold. Moving three or more times was not related to the children’s language and literacy outcomes.

The findings have implications for families that have been uprooted due to the recent “great recession,” Ziol-Guest says.

“In low-income communities—and middle-class as well—across the nation, collapsing housing markets, foreclosures, and evictions have followed on the heels of collapsing job markets,” she says.

“These phenomena likely increase stress at home and disrupt caregiving environments for children, creating a domino effect that can diminish scholastic achievement and increase social problems.

“The long-term consequences of the housing crisis for the achievement and well-being of this generation of children, particularly poor children, may be significant.”

Source: Cornell University