Moving can be difficult for adolescents, as they often worry about how they will fit in with new peers, adjust to a new school environment, and maintain stress levels. Yet residential mobility among youth may lead to another concerning outcome: juvenile delinquency. While prior research finds that moving can disrupt former social networks, allowing adolescents to form new bonds with possibly delinquent peers, little evidence illustrates a significant effect between a single move and delinquency. In a new study, Matt Vogel, Lauren Porter and Timothy McCuddy examine whether the number and type of moves an adolescent experiences affects their delinquency after the move.
The researchers use responses from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health and the National Longitudinal Study of Youth surveys to predict self-reported delinquency. Unique to previous research on youth mobility, these surveys provide adolescents’ residential locations at each interview wave. This allowed the researchers to compare frequency of relocation, neighborhood quality, and moving distance between neighborhoods. Youth self-reported acts of delinquency included engagement in selling drugs, robbery, burglary, major and minor theft, physical altercation, and damage to property.
Vogel and colleagues find that youth who experienced a single residential move were not more likely to report delinquent behavior. Yet, the more adolescents moved — particularly those that moved year to year — the more likely they were to engage in delinquent behavior. Adolescents who reported multiple moves, but did not report prior delinquency, were even more likely to engage in delinquency following relocation. The type of move was also important — if an adolescent moved from a more to a less disadvantaged neighborhood, they actually increased reports of delinquency. And adolescents that relocated to a different county were less likely to engage in delinquent behavior. Moving distance was especially significant for adolescents who reported prior delinquency. Thus, this research reveals a more nuanced understanding of how moving affects adolescents. The number and type of moves that youths experience can draw them into negative behaviors and delinquency, but moving can also provide potential benefits for youth with prior behavioral problems.