Many parents worry that the disruption of moving home may be harmful to young children, but a new study suggests that this is not necessarily so.
Researchers at the UCL Institute of Education, the University of Manchester and the Graduate Center, City University New York analysed information from more than 14,000 children born across the UK in 2000-01, who are being followed by the Millennium Cohort Study. These children were compared to 2,500 of those being followed by the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, who were born in 1998-2000 in 20 large American cities.
More than two thirds of the UK families owned their homes when their children were born, compared to just over a quarter of those in the US. Private renting was much more common among the American urban families – 42 per cent compared to just 7 per cent in the UK. Twice as many British children (20%) lived in social housing as in the US (10%).
The American families were more likely to move home – and to move more often. Two thirds of the US children had moved at least once before the age of five, and nearly one in five had moved more than three times by that age. Among British families, 40 per cent moved at least once by the age of five, and only 5 per cent moved more than three times.
The reasons parents in the UK gave for moving were mostly positive, such as a bigger house, better area or better schools. Moving due to problems with landlords or eviction was rare.
Half of the UK families who moved succeeded in finding homes with more space in better neighbourhoods. However, one in five moves in the UK neither increased their space nor improved their area.
Unfortunately, the researchers did not have information on why the American families moved, or whether their moves improved their living conditions.
The researchers examined the children’s experiences of moving in relation to their scores on cognitive assessments taken when the children were aged five, and whether they had any behavioural problems, such as ‘acting out’ (for example, fighting with others), or being withdrawn or anxious.
Moving did not appear to be related to children’s development once family income, parents’ education and health, housing tenure and the local area were taken into account. However, children whose moves did not improve their living space or area were more likely to act out than non-movers. Their vocabulary scores were also marginally worse.
“Policies need to enable families to move, to meet their changing needs, without undue stress,” the authors say. “We must also ensure that support for children during their ‘early years’ includes suitable housing for low income families.”
The researchers note that the housing market was much different during the period they looked at (mid-2000s) than it is today. “The question remains as to whether the current lack of affordable housing and reduction in rent subsidies in the UK will increase the number of young families moving for negative reasons,” they say.
Home moves in early years: The impact on children in UK and US is led by Professor Heather Joshi of the UCL Institute of Education. Professor Joshi and her co-author Professor Ruth Lupton of the University of Manchester will present initial findings from this project at a seminar on 27 May at the London School of Economics. The project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.