Household Mobility

Why is this important?

Residential mobility is common in the United States, where nearly half of the population moves over a 5-year period. Most moves are voluntary, due to movement to better quality housing, changes in household size, or relocation for employment. Other moves are involuntary, resulting from eviction, foreclosure, or destruction of the housing unit. Although mobility is common across the economic spectrum, low-income households generally move more frequently than other households, but the reasons for these moves are complex. Lower-income families have fewer resources than other families, potentially increasing housing instability and forcing involuntary mobility. Conversely, it is also unclear whether the absence of mobility reflects contentment with housing and community, or low-income households lack the resources to move and afford higher-cost housing [i]. However, higher-income households often have the resources to voluntarily move to neighborhoods of choice and may be more likely to move for employment or educational opportunities [ii].

Higher rates of mobility for high-income households making 200% or more of the poverty level illustrate this concept of housing choice and voluntary mobility. In communities with increasing populations, this may indicate an influx of high-income residents, or incomes may be growing and enabling housing choice for the highest incomes. Conversely, in a housing market where costs are rapidly increasing, lower rates of mobility for low-income households may indicate that poorer households lack the resources to move and are unable to afford new housing that is getting more expensive.

The role of homeownership in residential mobility is important. Homeowners move less frequently than renters, and homeownership is often an indicator of financial and community stability. Renting is most common among young adults who lack the resources to purchase homes and are generally more mobile with flexible job tenure and changing relationships [iii]. In markets with increasing housing prices, high renter mobility may indicate housing instability or displacement and an inability to enter homeownership and build wealth.


[i] Phinney, Robin. “Exploring Residential Mobility among Low-Income Families.” Social Service Review.  87. 4 (2013): 780-815.

[ii] Coulton, Claudia, Brett Theodos, and Margery A. Turner. “Family Mobility and Neighborhood Change.” The Urban Institute (2009).

[iii] “America’s Rental Housing: Meeting Challenges, Building on Opportunities.” Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University (2011).