Frequent Moves During Childhood Linked to Poorer Quality Adulthood

August 9, 2010 — Frequent moves during childhood may lead to behavioral problems and assorted woes – even in adulthood, according to a new University of Virginia study.

Psychologists have long known that children who are moved frequently are more likely to earn poor grades and exhibit bad behavior, but the new study indicates that difficulties can carry into adulthood, particularly among those who are neurotic or introverted.

"The long-term effects of moving on well-being in adulthood have been overlooked by researchers," said Shigehiro Oishi, a psychologist in U.Va.'s College of Arts & Sciences, who led the study. "Moving a lot makes it difficult for people to maintain long-term close relationships. This might not be a serious problem for outgoing people who can make friends more quickly and easily, but less outgoing people have a harder time making new friends."

This possibly can translate to lifelong problems, he and his co-researchers found. The results were published recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Oishi and his colleagues tested the relationship between well-being and the number of childhood moves from a sample of 7,108 American adults. The study participants, aged 20 to 75, were contacted originally in 1994 and 1995 as part of a nationally representative random sample survey and were surveyed again 10 years later. They were asked how many moves they had made as children, and about their psychological well-being in adulthood, the quality of their relationships and their personality type – whether they were introverted or extroverted.

The researchers found that adults who moved frequently as children were more likely to report lower life satisfaction and poorer psychological well-being. They also reported fewer quality social relationships as adults.

Among introverts – those who are less open to forming relationships – the more moves as children, the more difficulties they had as adults. This was a strong contrast to extroverts, who did well as adults even when they had moved often as children.

Oishi and his colleagues also found that neurotic people – people who are moody, nervous or high-strung (based on analysis of self-reported traits) – who moved often as children reported less satisfying adulthoods and a poorer sense of well-being than people who were not neurotic or had not moved frequently as children.

The researchers also found that study participants who moved often as children were more likely than those who stayed put to have died before the follow-up survey 10 years later. This held true even after the researchers factored in age, gender and race.

"We can speculate that moving often creates more stress, and stress has been shown to have an ill effect on people's health," Oishi said. "But we need more research on this link before we can conclude that moving in childhood can, in fact, be dangerous to your health in the long term."

— By Fariss Samarrai