Moving house is understandably a stressful event – indeed, it’s said to be one of the most stressful events that can happen in a person’s life, alongside things like experiencing a death in the family, divorcing or getting married. But not much is known about the effect that moving house may have on children, with the general feeling being that children are adaptable and although they might find it upsetting at first, leaving behind their home and possibly school and friends, they will cope in the long-term.
Recent research, though, has examined the long-term effect on children that moving house may have. At first instance, it would appear that moving house can increase the risk of using drugs, cigarettes and alcohol to excess in later life, being overweight as adults, developing high blood-pressure and long-term illnesses and psychological distress. Whilst poor health was slightly more likely to be experienced by adults who moved house a lot as children, this result was not ‘statistically significant’ so was not proven.
However, the researchers at the Medical Research Council, Queen’s University and the University of Sterling plus Scotland’s Chief Scientist Office looked for other factors that might explain the results.
They found that the adults who had moved house a lot as children were more likely to have come from impoverished or socially-deprived backgrounds. They also factored in things like housing status (whether their parents owned or rented the homes), class, whether the parents lived together, and how many siblings there were.
The basic results were that about one in five people did not move at all during childhood; thirty percent moved once or twice, and one in five moved at least three times. Of these, if a person had moved three times during childhood, they were significantly more likely to use illegal drugs; those who had moved at least once had a significantly higher risk of developing psychological distress as adults; that there were ‘elevated’ (though not significantly so) risks of developing long-term illness if there had been at least one house move, and of drinking and smoking heavily if there had been at least three moves.
However, once factors like social deprivation etc had been taken into account, the only significant increased risk was that if an adult had moved frequently as a child, they were more likely to take illegal drugs.
The results could be explained by the fact that people who move house frequently tend to do so because of deprivation and family break-up, and quite often in such circumstances the child is forced to move schools as well as homes. This can impact on a child’s educational development and social development as they struggle to make and keep friends.