Always on the Move: How Residential Mobility Impacts Our Well-Being

Besides feeling anxious, anticipation of loneliness is also common among people who are thinking about moving. After all, moving can affect our relationships with family and friends in many ways, and may even lead to the loss of close, highly cherished relationships. In laboratory experiments, people who thought about a mobile lifestyle expressed greater concerns about having fewer friends in the future and were more motivated to expand their social network compared to those who expected to stay put (Oishi et al., 2013). Even though frequent movers do end up having many friends, the relationships they form tend to be less deep. Indeed, American adults who move frequently tend to report having fewer quality social relationships than those who move infrequently (Oishi & Schimmack, 2010).

To Move or Not to Move: Which Makes Us Happier?

Feeling anxious and lonely is a perfectly normal reaction shortly after a move, but how does moving repeatedly affect our well-being over the long haul? Is frequent moving good or bad for us? There is no simple, straightforward answer. How well people adapt to moving depends on a variety of factors. If moving is your destiny due to job or other major concerns, here are several things that you might consider before choosing a new place to call home.

Characteristics of the Individual

The effect of moving on well-being depends in part on individual-level factors (Oishi, 2010). For instance, Stokols, Shumaker, and Martinez (1983) proposed that the reason for relocation, personal life circumstances, and a host of other individual differences need to be taken into consideration when making predictions about the psychological consequences of moving. Think about how differently it might feel if you are moving to start a dream job, as opposed to moving because of divorce. Or, what if you have to move alone and leave the rest of your family behind in your old town or city? How differently might it feel from taking your family with you on the move?

A limited number of studies also indicate possible gender differences in the negative psychological effects of moving. A national longitudinal survey revealed that moving exacts a greater toll on the mental health of women than men (Butler, McAllister, & Kaiser, 1973). In general, female movers are more likely than male movers to report symptoms of mental disorder. This pattern held whether the relocation was voluntary or involuntary. Using more recent national survey data, Magdol (2002) found moving to be predictive of depression for women but not for men. More research is needed to examine when, why, and how women and men may be differentially impacted by relocation.


Personality traits also have been found to make a difference in the effects of moving on individual well-being. For example, people who moved frequently as children tended to become less happy adults if they were introverts than if they were extroverts (Oishi & Schimmack, 2010). This difference may be related to a challenge inherent in frequent moving: The ability to establish and maintain close relationships. Compared to extroverts, introverts tend to have a harder time making new friends and thus are less likely to have quality social relationships. Moreover, neurotic individuals, who are predisposed to react more negatively to stressful life events, tend to fare less well in the long run.  Oishi and Schimmack (2010) found that frequent moves tend to make neurotic individuals less happy overall compared to people who are not neurotic. With these findings in mind, parents with children who are shy and/or neurotic should think twice about making frequent moves. If moving is necessary, it is important to pay attention to how the children are adjusting to their new environment and to take proactive steps in helping them become more socially integrated when necessary.

Characteristics of the Community 

Another factor that plays an important role in determining the outcome of moving is the community to which one is relocating. Some communities have low crime rates, whereas others have high crime rates. Even within the same city, some communities are affluent, whereas others are impoverished. Given that communities can differ from each other in a variety of ways, it is easy to imagine the well-being of people residing in one community would be likely to vary from that of people residing in another community.

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