Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

"Because we didn't have nowhere to go" : residential instability among rural low-income families

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  • The purpose of this study was to identify and examine risk and protective factors associated with residential instability within a sample of rural low-income mothers. Residential instability was defined as two or more residential moves within the course of a year. Qualitative and quantitative methods were used to compare residentially stable and residentially unstable participants in order to isolate the factors that differentiated the two groups. These factors were analyzed through life course and ecological theoretical perspectives. Significant factors associated with residential instability included childhood and adulthood contexts, as well as changes in family structures throughout the life course. Based on the findings from this sample, it could be conservatively estimated that 10 to 25% of rural low-income families with children were residentially unstable between 2000 and 2001. Previous research has pointed to the severe negative educational, social, and developmental impacts of residential instability on children. Findings from this study suggest that the children who are most at risk for future residential instability in any given year are likely to have experienced residential instability already, compounding the impact of residential instability on these children. This study also supports the previous finding that residential instability is transmitted across generations, with childhood residential instability predictive of residential instability in adulthood. Participants who had moved frequently during childhood were significantly more likely to be residentially unstable, as were participants who had been homeless within the two years previous to being surveyed. Participants who were sharing housing with relatives were also at risk of residential instability, due to strain on relationships between participants' families and the relatives with whom they were sharing housing. Relationship strain associated with residential instability also occurred between participants and their partners, with partnership separation significantly predictive of residential instability. Many residentially unstable participants went through cycles of moving in and out of relatives' and/or partners households, moving in and out with partners, or both. The connection between previous residential instability and subsequent residential instability was theorized to be associated with persistent poverty, and may also have indicated other destabilizing conditions. Difficulty in maintaining relationships or holding down a job, mental health problems, poor survival skills, or patterns of bad choices were all destabilizing conditions that could theoretically lead to residential instability. These destabilizing conditions may have often been associated with persistent poverty and their consequences may have been amplified by persistent poverty.
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