a mother and her children unpack moving boxes

Frequent Moves May Hurt Mothers’ Health

Research BriefMaternal & Child HealthMay 22 2024

Moving to a new home is a common experience among mothers and children. A variety of individual and structural factors can require a move, including economic instability, changes in family structure, limited supply of affordable housing, and discriminatory housing policies that disproportionately affect Black and Hispanic families. Whatever its cause, moving—especially when it’s frequent—can disrupt consistent access to critical services like health care and, in turn, lead to negative health outcomes.

According to recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, almost one in 10 children moved in 2022. Similarly, a new Child Trends analysis of data from the Future of Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS; see more on the study below) indicates that residential mobility was very common in the FFCWS sample (see figure). Over three quarters of families moved at least once when their children were in early childhood, and almost two thirds moved at least once when their children were in middle childhood and adolescence. In addition, many of these families were highly mobile, with almost one third moving more than twice while their children were in early childhood.

Moving was common among mothers and children in the FFCWS sample, although the frequency of moves decreased as children aged.

Percentage of families in the FFCWS sample moving zero times, 1-2 times, or 3 or more times in three phases of a child’s life

Moving was common among mothers and children in the FFCWS sample, although the frequency of moves decreased as children aged.

Source: Authors’ analysis of data from the Future of Families and Child Wellbeing Study.

The Child Trends analysis also found that mothers who moved experienced poorer physical health outcomes than those who did not. These findings suggest that practitioners can support highly mobile families by connecting mothers to health-promoting resources and services following a move. This brief concludes with recommendations for health care, school, and child care professionals to support families who move.

Background on the FFCWS study and our analysis

The Future of Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS; previously titled the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study) was designed to better understand the lives, relationships, and development of unmarried parents and their children in large U.S. cities. Unmarried parents were oversampled, yielding a sample of around three quarters of mothers who were not married when the study began. The sample also has higher proportions of Black, Hispanic, and low-income respondents than the nation as a whole. Families were recruited at the time of their child’s birth and have been followed for 22 years. The current study used data from mothers in the sample who were primary caregivers for their child at age 1 and examined health outcomes when children were ages 5 (early childhood), 9 (middle childhood), and 15 (adolescence).

The new analysis by Child Trends researchers presented in this brief is among the few to focus on physical health outcomes across development, as prior research has mostly focused on how moving can adversely affect mental and behavioral health for children and caregivers. In addition, prior studies have not always appropriately controlled for other family characteristics that co-occur with moving and that might be related to health outcomes. Without controlling for variables such as household income, family structure, and race-ethnicity, it is difficult to understand the unique role of residential mobility. Child Trends researchers used FFCWS data to address these gaps by examining how residential mobility was related to child and maternal health quality and emergency department visits. They looked at these associations in early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence using a matching technique that controlled for other family characteristics to address selection bias (see note below the table).


The Child Trends research team found that mothers who moved reported poorer health quality and a greater number of visits to the emergency department than mothers who did not. These associations were strongest among mothers who moved three or more times during different periods of their child’s life (i.e., early childhood, middle childhood, adolescence). Of these periods, associations between moving and the mother’s health were most pronounced during middle childhood and adolescence. In contrast to the findings for mothers, there was not a clear association between residential mobility and children’s health outcomes.

Mothers who moved reported poorer health quality and more visits to the emergency room.

Mothers who moved reported poorer health quality and more visits to the emergency room.

Source: Authors’ analysis of data from the Future of Families and Child Wellbeing Study.

Notes: An upward arrow () indicates that moving was associated with greater levels of the outcome. A downward arrow () indicates that moving was associated with lower levels of the outcome. Red boxes indicate an adverse association between moving and health (i.e., poorer health, greater emergency room visits). Data on emergency room visits were not collected when the child was an adolescent.

Inverse propensity score weighting was used to control for household poverty ratio; family structure (e.g., whether the mother was married or in a relationship); mother’s race-ethnicity; whether the mother was born outside the United States; mother’s level of education; mother’s age at child’s birth; whether the mother received public assistance, lived in public housing, or received public housing support; mother’s baseline health quality; and child’s gender.

More research is needed to explain why moving is associated with health risks for mothers. However, it is possible that mothers who moved faced difficulties in finding a primary care physician after their move, or were unable to seek care for their own medical or health needs due to disruptions and stress related to their move, changes in insurance, or loss of social support. Children, on the other hand, may have been protected from these adverse outcomes because mothers intentionally prioritized their children’s health needs over their own, or because children had greater access to other institutions (e.g., schools) or insurance that supported their health care.


Below, we offer recommendations for health care providers, school staff (e.g., teachers, administrators, counselors, nurses), and child care providers to support families who move. By supporting both mothers and children during and after a move, health care and educational practitioners can protect and promote the health of the many families who move.

  • Share community resource lists: Schools and child care programs should develop community resource lists with information about health insurance exchanges, local health care providers, and other local health-promoting resources and organizations. School staff should share these lists with families enrolling their child in the school for the first time, during parent-teacher conferences, if a child’s address changes during school reenrollment, or during other family events. These lists should include resources for children and for parents, who may face more barriers to health care access than their children and more adverse outcomes after a move.
  • Introduce new parents to other parents: School staff can also facilitate introductions between parents who are new to the school and/or community and other, more experienced parents (e.g., via information about the parent-teacher association or connections to a “buddy” who can answer questions about the school or community).
  • Ask about recent moves and health care providers: Pediatricians and other school staff (e.g., those who conduct home visits) should ask parents whether they have moved recently and whether they have a primary care provider and/or health insurance; depending on parents’ response, they could provide information about local health care providers and health insurance exchanges.

This project was supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling $100,000 with 0% financed with non-governmental sources. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit HRSA.gov.

Suggested citation

Abenavoli, R., Amadon, S., & Briggs, S. (2024). Frequent moves may hurt mothers’ health. Child Trends. DOI: 10.56417/3760y6138o