Moving home in the early years: what happens to children in the UK?

Ludovica Gambaro, Heather Joshi


Children’s early years are a time when many families move home.  Does residential mobility affect children’s wellbeing at age five in terms of cognitive and behavioural development? The question arises as moving home is sometimes portrayed as a stressful life event adversely affecting child development, particularly if frequent. Other studies suggest a more mixed role for home moves, which may reflect good or bad changes in family circumstances. This paper first presents evidence from the first five years of the UK Millennium Cohort Study about who moved, how often and why.  We find that many British families at this point in the life cycle move to improve the housing of a growing family. We then investigate the relationship between the number of moves and child outcomes. Generally, moving displays an adverse association with our three indicators of child development at age five.  However the adverse association is statistically explained by changes in family structure, employment status, insecure housing tenure, and other controls for family vulnerabilities. Moving is better seen as sometimes a response to other family stressors. Differentiating moves in terms of their destination we find that moving into the 30% poorest areas, as well as ‘failing’ to move out of them, shows some adverse outcomes for children. After allowing for other associations with family disadvantage, also apparent in other studies of the Millennium Cohort, we find a small but significant disadvantage to living in low-income areas as well as moving within them.


residential mobility, neighbourhood, move quality, child development, early years, Millennium Cohort Study

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