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

This is not to say that people moving to communities low in relational mobility do not need to worry about maintaining relationships. They do, just in a different way. Because old relationships are less replaceable in communities with a low level of relational mobility, people must keep their existing relationships harmonious. That is why people living in places with low relational mobility have been shown to be more cautious about disclosing intimate details with others, including close friends, compared to people living in places with high relational mobility (Schug et al., 2010). So if you are living or planning to move to a place with low relational mobility, think twice before divulging your deepest secrets. It may be in your best interest to be selective in what you tell others, including your closest confidants.

Characteristics of One’s Social Network

Are you someone who prefers having a few close friends or a large social circle that is less deep? People who prefer having a few close relationships tend to form social networks that are narrow and deep, whereas those who prefer a larger social circle tend to form social networks that are broad and shallow. According to research conducted by Oishi and Kesebir (2012), the type of social network people have can put them at an advantage or disadvantage psychologically depending on how residentially mobile their community is and its socioeconomic condition. Specifically, one of their studies found that, among American respondents living in residentially stable and economically disadvantaged communities, those with narrow and deep social networks reported greater subjective well-being than those with broad and shallow social networks. In residentially stable but wealthy communities and in residentially mobile communities more generally, it was respondents with broad and shallow networks who reported greater subjective well-being.



But, what do these findings exactly mean? First, for people who are frequently on the move or who are living in highly mobile communities, having a broader social circle might be more psychologically advantageous than having a few close friends. Given that leaving close relationships can take a serious toll on us emotionally, it makes sense to “spread one’s time and resources among many friends instead of putting all one’s eggs in one basket” (Oishi & Kesebir, 2012, p. 1542).However, if you live in stable communities where few friends are likely to move away, the psychological benefit of having a broader and shallower, as opposed to a narrower and deeper, social network depends on the socioeconomic condition. Research suggests that when the economy is unfavorable, having a few close friends may be more psychologically beneficial in stable communities (Oishi & Kesebir, 2012). After all, the kinds of help required in economically difficult times may feel more burdensome, so only close friends are likely to offer help. In other words, when the economy is down, those of us living in residentially stable communities would be better off having a few close friends than a broad circle of distant friends.

Based on these findings, if you are moving to a residentially mobile town or city, it may be a good idea to actively participate in social events and make as many friends as possible. By contrast, if you are moving to a residentially stable mobile town or city, be selective in the people you befriend and make efforts to invest in a few deep relationships. Spend a lot of time with a small group of close friends and provide help when they need it.

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