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Residential mobility is common in families with young children; however, its impact on the social development of children is unclear. We examined associations between the number, timing and type of house moves in childhood and child behaviour problems using data from an ongoing longitudinal study.
Complete data on residential mobility and child behaviour was available for 403 families. Three aspects of mobility were considered: (a) number of house moves from birth to <2years, 2 to <5years and 5 to 9years; (b) lifetime number of house moves; and (c) moves associated with different housing trajectories characterized by changes in housing tenure. The primary outcomes were internalizing and externalizing behaviour problems at 9years derived from Achenbach’s Child Behaviour Checklist. Linear regression analyses were used to investigate the effect of the housing variables on internalizing and externalizing behaviour problem scores with adjustment for a range of sociodemographic and household covariates.
Moving house ≥2 times before 2years of age was associated with an increased internalizing behaviour score at age 9years. This association remained after adjustment for sociodemographic and household factors. There was no association between increased residential mobility in other time periods and internalizing behaviour, or mobility in any period and externalizing behaviour. There was no effect of lifetime number of moves, or of an upwardly or downwardly mobile housing trajectory. However, a housing trajectory characterized by continuous rental occupancy was associated with an increased externalizing behaviour score.
These findings may suggest that there is a sensitive period, in the first few years of life, in which exposure to increased residential mobility has a detrimental effect on mental health in later childhood.