The focused on a number of negative outcomes including suicide attempts, criminality, psychiatric disorders, drug abuse, and unnatural mortality. Moving during childhood was linked to increased incidence of all these negative outcomes later in life. Moving multiple times in a single year made long-term harms even more likely.
And the group of youngsters most likely to feel the ill effects of moving are kids in early adolescence, between 12 and 14. A child who goes through a residential move at age 14 has double the risk of suicide by middle age. Her risks of engaging in violent crime of abusing drugs more than double. And these risk ratios hold true even after controlling for parents’ income and psychiatric history.
Crucially, this study looked only at moves across Danish municipal boundaries — far enough that it would typically require a child to change schools. The researchers argue that fact goes a long way toward explaining the results.
“Relocated adolescents often face a double stress of adapting to an alien environment, a new school, and building new friendships and social networks, while simultaneously coping with the fundamental biological and developmental transitions that their peers also experience,” Webb and his colleagues write.
There are, of course, different reasons that people move. Moves done in an orderly fashion in early childhood — say, for a parent’s new job, or in order to trade up to a nicer home — may have a different impact on children’s lives than a chaotic cross-town move due to an eviction.
Unfortunately, the data from Denmark doesn’t include information on the reasons behind the moves. But Webb and his colleagues were able to control for things — such as parents’ socioeconomic status — that may predict one type of move or another.
What have they found?
They found that rich kids experienced heightened risks from moving just as much as poor kids, particularly in adolescence. “Residential mobility among older children, even in more-affluent households, may occur in parallel with severe family stressors such as parental separation,” they hypothesize.