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

Is the community made up of frequent movers? Living in residentially stable neighborhoods has shown to be beneficial for a host of reasons. Residentially stable neighborhoods do not only have lower crime rates, but their inhabitants also tend to be more engaged in community affairs (Kang & Kwak, 2003) and to display a higher level of devotion and commitment to pro-community action, such as purchasing specialty license plates to help preserve their state’s natural habitat (Oishi, Rothman, et al., 2007). Because people from residentially stable communities have been found to be more willing to offer assistance than those in residentially mobile communities, settling in the former may be especially beneficial in times of need. Moving to stable communities may also be a good idea if you are someone who values the caring and protecting of others, because you are more likely to be surrounded by people who are pro-social and accustomed to helping others.

Why are the inhabitants of residentially stable communities more likely to engage in actions that benefit their community and less likely to engage in actions that hurt their community? So far, the research points to a few possibilities. One potential explanation is that people who live in the same community for a long time are likely to develop psychological attachment to their community (Kasarda & Janowitz, 1974). Such an attachment has been linked to community participation and revitalization (Brown, Perkins, & Brown, 2003). Moreover, frequent social interactions and problem-solving efforts among residents in stable communities can create a sense of collective efficacy, which has been linked to lower levels of crime (Sampson, Raudenbush, & Earls, 1997) and antisocial behavior (Odgers et al., 2009). Finally, residential stability helps strengthen people’s identity as a member of their community (Oishi, Rothman, et al., 2007). Greater level of identification to one’s community in turn leads to more pro-community behavior.

In spite of the many advantages associated with living in residentially stable communities, it may not be a naturally good fit for everyone. For example, research by Lun and colleagues (2012) found that residential mobility influences friendship preferences. People who move frequently prefer to make friends with egalitarian helpers (i.e., individuals who are more willing to help others outside of their friendship circles), whereas people who do not move frequently prefer to make friends with loyal helpers (i.e., individuals who tend to favor friends over strangers). So, if you are moving to a residentially mobile town or city, one strategy that may help you adjust to the new environment is to be open-minded and egalitarian. Lend a hand to both strangers and friends in need. If you are moving to a residentially stable town or city, it might be in your best interest to be loyal to your friends and lend them a hand whenever they need help.

Is the community high in relational mobility? Not only do communities differ in the extent to which their residents move, they also have particular social systems characterized by the way their residents establish and maintain relationships. In some communities, residents’ relationships tend to be entrenched within rigid social circles. Psychologists would call these communities low in relational mobility. In other communities, residents’ relationships are more easily formed and terminated. Psychologists would call these communities high in relational mobility. Research by Joanna Schug and her colleagues has shown that relational mobility affects the approach people take in strengthening relationships (Schug, Yuki, & Maddux, 2010). When relationships are perceived as more stable and difficult to terminate, people tend to put less effort in maintaining their relationships. However, when relationships are perceived as more fragile and shifting, people tend to invest more in relationships by sharing their personal thoughts and feelings.

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