Children on the move? Childhood residential mobility and the effects of neighborhood on child well-being

The concept of child well-being spans multiple disciplines. Scholarship that seeks to understand child development and well-being must integrate research on the biological, psychological, behavioral and social changes that individuals experience during the transition from childhood to adolescence. But these individual-level factors are influenced by the economic, social, and physical characteristics of the communities within which children live. There is a rich history of research documenting the negative effects of community-or neighborhood-level economic and social deprivation on educational achievement, cognitive skills, behavioral and social development and health outcomes. However, these studies essentially disregard time and space as they largely rely on data that only measures a child’s neighborhood at one point in time. Implicit in this body of cross-sectional research are assumptions that children live in the same neighborhoods throughout their childhoods and that these neighborhoods do not change over time. This work ignores the complexities added by childhood residential mobility and alternative understandings of what constitutes a child’s community or neighborhood. To address these limitations, this study uses the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten (ECLS-K) Cohort, which tracks children’s residence over time, to investigate:

    1. How often children move during early childhood, and whether mobility patterns differ by family characteristics such as race, job status or economic circumstances.
    2. To what degree children and their families move to neighborhoods with similar socioeconomic characteristics.
    3. Whether different definitions of neighborhood, such as a child’s residential census tract vs. a school’s catchment area, alter results of statistical models predicting neighborhood effects on children’s well-being.
    4. The cumulative effect of neighborhoods on child well-being over time. Specifically, we have: a) developed measures of neighborhood exposure that consider all areas a child has lived in from K-8th grade and b) integrated longitudinal neighborhood measures into statistical models.
Forest Plot

Effect of Neighborhood Racial Composition on Child Self Rated Health

This study aims to strengthen our theoretical and practical understanding of the social ecology of child well-being by integrating insight and expertise from geography, sociology and public health. To date, results indicate that children are highly mobile throughout early childhood and the nature of the neighborhoods they move into/out of change over time. Children in the sample who initially moved to “better” neighborhood environments often ended up moving back to disadvantaged neighborhoods with subsequent moves. In addition, once selection into neighborhoods is controlled for, there appear to be no effects of neighborhood racial composition on child self-rated health. However, neighborhood environments do show strong effects on children’s educational outcomes.

This project is in collaboration with:
Stefanie Mollborn (Dept of Sociology, University of Colorado Boulder)