Home moves and child wellbeing in the first five years of life in the United States


  • Brenden Beck The Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • Anthony Buttaro Jr. The Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • Mary Clare Lennon The Graduate Center, City University of New York




Residential mobility, child development, early years, Fragile Family and Child Wellbeing Study, generalized estimating equation


By the time they are five years old, nearly 70% of children in the United States have moved home, with a substantial minority moving more than once.  These early years are important for children’s later learning and development. Yet, there are a limited number of studies of residential mobility’s impact on young children.  The literature indicates the importance of stressful family events, unstable housing, economic hardship, and neighbourhood conditions for residential mobility and child wellbeing. But research seldom examines the impact of these dimensions simultaneously.  We used data from the first four waves of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to analyse precursors of residential mobility and the association of residential mobility with child behavior (N=2,511) and cognitive capabilities (N=2,033) at age five.  Using Generalized Estimating Equations (GEE), we find that the frequency of moving is explained by a range of stressful circumstances, including lack of parental employment, partnership transitions, paternal incarceration, unstable housing tenure, and financial hardship.  These circumstances are associated with increased likelihood of moving home even when other family and neighbourhood conditions are controlled, suggesting that moving is part of a constellation of events and changes experienced by young children.  Using OLS regression models we find that, for young children, the circumstances associated with moving residence appear to be more consequential for child wellbeing than does moving itself, even when children experience multiple moves.