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Social disparities in residential mobility and children’s outcomes in early and middle childhood

Studies of residential mobility over the course of individual lives have documented that individuals are more mobile when they have young children. Given the high rate of residential mobility, and the importance of early life experiences for later outcomes, it is crucial to understand the implications of moving home for children development. A large body of research has shown that children who stay in the same home have better outcomes than their more mobile counterparts. However, a dichotomization of mobility experiences (movers versus non-movers) has limited explanatory power and calls for approaches that consider frequency, motivations, and characteristics of residential moves. Further, whereas more advantaged families often make intentional moves to better housing or neighbourhood, more disadvantaged families are at risk of deterioration of their housing contexts. Families might also differ in the resources they have to buffer the negative effects of a move.

This project addresses the following research questions:

  • Differences by type of moves
    Does the relationship between residential mobility and children outcomes vary depending on (i) the reasons for moving?
    (ii) housing and local area characteristics before and after the move?
  • Social disparities
    Are residential mobility effects explained by the socioeconomic composition of movers?
    And do they vary by parental social background?


Types of inequalities

The main sources of inequality investigated in this study are parental social class, education and income, housing tenure and neighbourhood deprivation.

Inequalities of outcomes: cognitive outcomes and socio-emotional wellbeing at age 5 and 10.


Longitudinal data from Growing Up in Scotland to follow a sample of children up to age 10. Linear regression to investigate the effect of residential mobility on children cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes at age 5 and at age 10.


Moving home is a common experience among children from the GUS sample: half of them moved home at least once during the first 10 years of their lives. Preliminary findings suggest a negative association between residential mobility in childhood and both cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes. Differences in the socio-economic composition of movers and non-movers explain a large part of the negative effect of a move. However, even accounting for socioeconomic differences between movers and non-movers, the negative effect of a move on children cognitive outcomes and externalizing behaviour remains. The implication of residential mobility might depend on the child social background. For some disadvantaged children moving acts as an improvement of their circumstances (e.g. for those moving from the most deprived areas). For others, moving exacerbates existing disadvantages (e.g. for those moving from private rented accommodation).

Policy implications

The project findings have the potential to inform policies to support young families with children in Scotland at a time their position in the housing market has weakened, and more face downward mobility.

For further information contact Dr Francesca Fiori

Research Team

Professor Marita Jacob
Dr Francesca Fiori
Senior Research Fellow