Compared to children who do not move to a new home, children who move are more likely to do worse in school, have more physical and mental health problems, and are more likely to be delinquent and use alcohol and drugs. In recent research that uses detailed data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, I find that African-American and Hispanic children showed more signs of anxiety and depression after they moved. I also find that, on average, Hispanic children demonstrated more aggressive behavior after they moved (Figure 1). White children in this sample, however, did not appear to be negatively affected by a move.
Why might moving be worse for African-American and Hispanic children than it is for white children? Perhaps non-white children are more likely to be exposed to violence or have fewer social supports in their homes and neighborhoods, which would make them more susceptible to the disruptive effects of a move? Neither of those factors, however, explained the negative effect of moving for African-American and Hispanic children (as measured by the Child Behavior Checklist, well-established scales that are frequently used as indicators of child behavior). A variety of other factors, such as being renters instead of homeowners and, for Hispanic children, their immigration history, also failed to explain the differences.
Another factor could be the differences between the types of neighborhoods that people are leaving and those they are entering. In general, most of the children in my sample whose families left their neighborhoods moved to a new neighborhood with similar characteristics. This is consistent with other research showing that it is uncommon for families to move to new neighborhoods that are radically different (in terms of poverty level and other characteristics) from the neighborhoods they are leaving. Given this, it’s not surprising that among those moving to similar (or worse) neighborhoods, African-American and Hispanic children showed more signs of anxiety and depression, on average, after they moved.
I do, however, have suggestive findings that indicate that African-American children who moved to much better neighborhoods, within or beyond the city of Chicago, did not experience increases in anxiety and depression, unlike African-American children who moved to similar or worse neighborhoods. This finding is consistent with research on the Moving to Opportunity program showing better outcomes in some domains for children who moved from neighborhoods characterized by concentrated poverty to lower poverty neighborhoods.
These and similar findings from other studies of residential mobility and neighborhood effects have several possible implications for policymakers. The data suggest that the children most likely to experience negative effects of moves seem to be similar to children that Matthew Desmond’s work on evictions shows are more likely to experience forced moves. If this is the case, the findings underscore the importance of efforts to prevent and reduce evictions and other forced moves.
The findings also suggest that policymakers pursuing programs that aim to improve neighborhood contexts by relocating families need to acknowledge the potential disruptive effects of residential mobility that could undermine the benefits of those moves. If further research confirm the suggestive results showing that the disruptive effects of residential mobility may differ depending on the characteristics of the destination neighborhood, then mobility programs should be designed to focus on efforts to move families to more advantaged neighborhoods.
Beyond mobility programs, policymakers might consider the extent to which other programs and policies unintentionally increase the number of moves that children make and thus increase the possibility of negative outcomes. As one example, it would be useful to determine if the Housing Choice Voucher Program’s time limits for finding a unit to rent with a voucher unnecessarily result in temporary moves before a household finds a permanent unit.
Taken as a whole, such measures could potentially reduce negative outcomes among African-American and Hispanic children whose families have to move, particularly those who have to move frequently.