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June 4th, 2010
05:58 PM ET

Frequent moves in childhood linked to poor outcomes

By Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

The stress of moving on children may carry negative effects on mental health and happiness in adulthood, a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests.

People who had moved more as children were more likely to report lower life satisfaction and psychological well-being, regardless of age, gender and education level. These people also said they had fewer quality social relationships in adulthood than those who moved less in their youth.

Study participants came from a sample of more than 7,000 Americans adults who were contacted in 1994 and 1995. Nearly 5,000 of them completed additional surveys 10 years later that included questions about life satisfaction, personality, and how many times they moved to a "totally new neighborhood or town" as children.

Personality may play a big role in this, the authors wrote. Previous research has shown that high extraversion and low neuroticism are strongly associated with most aspects of well-being. The authors of the current study found that introverted participants who said they had moved frequently as children said they had lower levels of life satisfaction and psychological well-being than introverts who had not moved often. Introverts who had moved a lot as children also had a small increased likelihood of dying between survey periods.

When children move to different places, they are forced to leave their friendships behind and make new ones, which isn't always easy, the authors note. Introverted children may have a harder time joining a new social circle and developing close relationships than more outgoing kids, meaning the shy ones may have more of a negative experience adjusting.

One limitation of the study is that some adults may not remember how many times they moved to a new neighborhood as children, and these results come from self-reported data. Another is that some participants may not have known what constituted a "totally new neighborhood," or what ages are included in "childhood," when taking the survey.

Further research should be done on the subject before the findings should influence anyone's decisions about moving, the authors wrote.

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soundoff (168 Responses)
  1. PK

    Being a Military Brat was a double edged sword for me. In ways it was great. I learned and experienced much more of this country than most kids my age. I was so ahead in school with my peers I even skipped a grade.

    In other ways it was horrible, too. My father was in the Army AGR program. We didn't move often where there were other kids like me. I wasn't even around other army brats much. On top of that I was an only child and introverted.

    I can remember MONTHS of pure loneliness at a time. (Yeah, my parents were around but that's not the same thing to a kid). That loneliness is probably what affected my self-esteem so badly. Moving at the beginning of summer was the worst possible time to move. I built up a huge psychological wall around me and I can remember being called an Ice Princess or stuck up since I was a small child. It got really bad when I started liking boys. I'd hide any feelings I would have because I felt they was pointless (I moved 4 times from 12 to 17). I didn't expect them to like me back either.

    Now I'm in my 30's and it still lingers. I still keeps walls and I tend to seem cold towards people. I can't shake that lonely feeling no matter how many people I'm around.

    Would it have been different if I didn't move? *shrugs* who knows...

    November 23, 2010 at 02:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Alexandria Owens

    I was born in North Carolina, my dad was in the 82nd Airborne. From there my journey began. I've always been "The New Girl". I moved more than ten times by the age of seventeen. I've been to Minnesota to Florida, and nearly all regions of Alabama. I am well-cultured, but I keeping a long-lasting friendship is really difficult.
    I jump around to different friends and groups, but never staying in one place for too long.
    I'm an only child of a marriage that lasted nearly seventeen years, my dad left when I was fifteen (which led to another move.)
    I dropped out of high school after my Junior year when I was seventeen. I didn't have many friends in school.
    I moved out at seventeen.
    I feel alone in a crowded room full of people. I blame the frequent up-rooting and relocating.
    I wish I could find more people like myself so
    I didn't feel like such an outsider.

    June 21, 2011 at 16:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Vaughn Blaylock

    I moved about 12 times from the time I was 5 until I graduated. It was a miserable experience for me. I hated it. While I am not exactly an intrvert, I do find that maintaining a long lasting relationship is difficult for me, and I have very very few people I would call friends, whereas my wife who lived in one small town her entire life has dozens of friends, and I have trouble even conceptualizing this. I'd be happy to discuss this if someone is doing a bona fide study and intends to release it. I'm not that hard to find on Facebook.

    December 19, 2011 at 08:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Anonymous

      I just added up how many times we moved from the time I was born until I left home. Fourteen times in three different states. And why did we move so much? Because my dad had social problems and could not keep a job.

      If it had been for a logical reason, like he was in the military, that would have been easier to take. But there was no reason or rhyme, except it was to accommodate his unstable ways. In those days women let the husband take the lead. It wasn't until after I left home that my mom put her foot down and made him leave.

      I was an introvert. It was terrible moving so much. Just when I made friends I lost them. As an introvert is takes time to allow people to bond with you. After about the sixth grade I just gave up. I couldn't make lasting friendships even though we did live in a town for a few years. I never had a best friend and eventually I could not make friends at all. This fear of not having a home has dogged me through my adult life. It's a fear that had driven me into despair and a belief that some day I will be homeless. I feel like there is nothing I can depend on. My family all got over it. But I haven't and they are not close to me. I am not at all like they are. And I am the odd man out. It's disparaging and not matter how hard I try, I still feel like that lost little kid going from place to place.

      September 3, 2012 at 22:51 | Report abuse |
    • Lisa

      Reply to anonomous as well –
      This is the same as for me. I moved around once a year until I grew up and moved out. I went to 10 schools. We moved countries when I was 10 and this was the hardest thing that ever happened, becuase I never could fit in after that. My parents split up when I was 14 and age 13 I spent time living with my grandparents. All because my father was unable to maintain being in a job. He always argued with the boss, always walked out, something was always wrong, everything was always negative about 'these people' and 'this place'. There was always a terrible atmosphere from both my parents, and when you're always new, you've no-where to turn. I was a shy and quiet girl. My parents were not emotionally supportive, my family not close, and I was an only child, So I grew up having to work it all out on my own.I spent alot of time scared, and alot of time envying other people who seemed to feel so much better than me.
      As a 40 year old adult, I have very very few friends, and no-one really close. I have had close real best friends, but either I moved away or they faded away somehow. I learned to make strong connections quickly, and this is an interesting experience, because inevitably people go, or I go, and the strong connection gets broken. I get hurt alot. I got used to it.
      But I am fed up now, I want something stable. I havent been able to maintain a lasting relationship and that really upsets me. I feel embarrassed. I want to change my life and I want to take control.

      September 8, 2016 at 06:19 | Report abuse |
  4. Dylan

    My parents divorced when I was still a child and I lived with my dad we moved all the time, to this day I am an intensely shy person and suffer a lot of depression and anxious thoughts, poverty never helped either.

    February 29, 2012 at 22:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Splitting Hairs

    It is not just moving that can be a problem, but the nature (timing, frequency and distance). Moving numerous times across the state is one thing (or to similar states), but when the moves are sufficient distance (state or to another country), the cultural changes on top of the normal baggage that comes from leaving behind friends can be very difficult for adults (that instigated the move). let alone kids. Younger kids are less impacted on moving, the teen years or just before is where it gets more complicated I moved 12 times between 4 and 15 years old, 4 of the moves were 3000-4000 miles distance and 3 were to a different country. I did make close friendships wherever I went, though that just made the inevitable breaking away harder to handle.

    As stated, you also cannot compare army brat moves, these kids were "born" into the lifestyle somewhat, moving was expected to happen, and they at least had common ground with other army brats. With civilian moves, kids tend to feel outsiders, as all their new friends have typically lived in the same town all their lives, and have close ties to their place of birth.

    Lastly, how well a kid adjusts to moving, can be somewhat related to the type of friendships they make or desire. Many "friendships" be they child or adult, fall into the close "acquaintance" category as opposed to one of true friendship. The closer the bond formed, the more gut wrenching the separation can be, and harder to make new friends in the future, Rinse rather repeat this process numerous times, will challenge all but the most extroverted (or is that superficial) of kids.

    April 30, 2012 at 17:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. warren

    I would like to know if anybody has moved more than 36 times in 18 yrs. In 4th grade 3 times (Evenston, Wy, Dinosaure, Co. and back to parents hometown Hanover,Ks). Each of 5 children born in different state from SW N. Dakota to Lafayetetta,La. But yet the area we covered was from Anchorage, Ak to Tehren, Iran (E-W) and Bowman, ND to Midland, Tx; this was between 1952 -1945.
    My Father had a BS in geophysical science (oil exploration); he was known as a "doodle bugger". As he put it: he doodled here and then their.
    Total life time moves for me 58, I'm 60 and I don't consider my RV travels as moves. I do find it interesting that I lived in a travel trailer for the first 5yrs of my life and have lived in an RV since '95.

    June 25, 2013 at 21:26 | Report abuse | Reply
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