Objective: The United States is a highly mobile society, with family relocation rates double those of Great Britain and Germany. The objective of this study was to describe the impact of frequent family moves on reported rates of delay in growth or development, learning disorders, school failure, and frequent behavioral problems in US school-age children.
Design and setting: We analyzed data on 9915 six- to 17-year-old children of families responding to the 1988 National Health Interview Survey, a nationally representative sample of families and children.
Outcome measures: Parents were asked to report the total number of moves the index child had experienced during his or her lifetime. Total moves were adjusted for the child's age in years. Children were divided into two groups: never moved/infrequent relocation (below the 90th percentile for age-adjusted moves) and frequent relocation (above the 90th percentile for age-adjusted moves). The parent was asked if the child had ever had a learning disability or a delay in growth or development, had ever failed a grade, or had four or more frequently occurring behavioral problems as described by a behavioral problems checklist.
Results: The measures of both child dysfunction and family relocation were independently associated with multiple sociodemographic characteristics such as poverty, race, and family structure. Frequent relocation was associated with higher rates of all measures of child dysfunction; 23% of children who moved frequently had repeated a grade vs 12% of children who never or infrequently moved. Eighteen percent of children who moved frequently had four or more behavioral problems vs 7% of children who never or infrequently moved. Use of logistic regression to control for potential confounding covariates demonstrated that children who moved frequently were 77% more likely to be reported to have four or more behavioral problems (odds ratio, 1.77; 95% confidence interval, 1.37 to 2.29) and were 35% more likely to have failed a grade (odds ratio, 1.35; 95% confidence interval, 1.06 to 1.72), but no more likely to have had delays in growth or development or a learning disorder.
Conclusions: After adjusting for other covariates, frequent family relocation was associated with an increased risk of children failing a grade in school and four or more frequently occurring behavioral problems.