I have moved to 7 different houses and 8 different schools, so it’s safe to say I know a little bit about what it is like to move. Now, I don’t blame these events for how I turned out, but there is an argument to suggest they could have moulded me into who I am today. I remember in high school, when I met my first school counsellor, her saying that she was surprised at how high my grades were considering my transitions. I can see where she is coming from because when you move, you miss school, you lose friends, and you must accumulate to new surroundings all over again. But does this affect how we are in the long term? Could I blame my neuroticism on all these moves? Let’s Find Out!
Is Moving Bad for Us?
Originally, the research focused on ‘military families’, as the nature of the job requires constant movement. It later expanded, focusing on a range of family moves, both positive and negative. The major concern that parents have with moving is the worry that it will increase the chances of their child developing various behavioural and interpersonal problems, specifically within a school.
And…No wonder they are worried. If you google the effects of moving on a child, a number of news articles and research appears stating the negative impact. Webb et al., (2016) found the older a child was exposed to ‘residential mobility’, a fancy word for moving, the greater the risk, with those at the higher end of this spectrum more likely to offend, attempt suicide, and engage in substance abuse. They argued this was found across the socioeconomic spectrum, from ‘lower’ to ‘higher’ classes.
Is It True?
However, the main issue with studies such as these, which end up blasted on headlines everywhere, is that they miss out on key confounding factors. For example, due to the retrospective nature of the aforementioned study, the underlying reasons for moving were unknown. A child moving because of divorce compared to a child moving to a bigger house has a completely different context. Furthermore, they failed to take into account other salient childhood experiences that can result in substance abuse and offending, such as child abuse. These all have significant effects on the outcome of research.
Pay Attention to All the Factors!
Little attention is paid to socioeconomic and household differences which lead to inconsistencies in research. Rumbold et al., (2012) focused on the number, timing, and type of house moves in a longitudinal study. They found that children who moved under the age of two did show an increase in internalising behaviour at 9, whereas those who moved after two did not. Furthermore, the number of house moves did not have a cumulative effect on behaviour at the age of 9. They argued that those under the age of 2 were more likely to be affected by the stressful life event of moving, due to their lack of ability to fully comprehend the move. Therefore, this acts as evidence for the need for researchers to consider all factors. (It also means I’m out of luck, I moved at 5.)
They are not the only one either. Tucker et al., (1998) investigated the influence of family structures on a child’s ability to cope with moving. They found there was no difference in school performance between children who had moved a lot with those who had moved little to none if they had both their biological parents. Whereas, those with variation, such as one biological mother, were more likely to experience a negative effect from moving. The argument is that the more life stressors a child receives the more it with affect their adolescent outcomes. However, there is little detail into how many life stressors it takes, as they did not measure that in their sample.
The truth is, unfortunately, I cannot blame all my mental health and behavioural issues on moving. It turns out we cannot pin down moving as it is surrounded by a number of complex factors. The scaremongering you see in news headlines is simply those who fail to read all the research available.
The reason for moving matters. The income of family matters. The age of the child matters.
This further highlights the need for people to not take correlations as fact. We cannot say that because A correlates with B, that A caused B when we have not looked a C, D, E, F… you get it.
Not only is this a little taster into what happens to a child when you move, but the more I read the more I realised it is also a lesson in the need for evidenced-based research. Ones with representative samples that explore confounding factors, and own up to their limitations. And for news headlines, which do this a lot, to not take the catchiest sentence and use it to scare everyone!
I guess I cannot blame moving on being,
Anxious and Hungry.
References can be found in the Links Attached!