• Residential Mobility: Implications for Families and Communities
  • Volume 14 Number 3
  • Managing Editor: Mark D. Shroder
  • Associate Editor: Michelle P. Matuga

Tracking Mobility at the Household Level

Kate Bachtell, Ned English, Catherine Haggerty, NORC at the University of Chicago


Considerable literature supports the desirability of studying individuals in the context of their immediate social unit, the household. Focused studies of household composition reveal that households in economically disadvantaged populations with low homeownership rates are particularly likely to experience additions, subtractions, and substitutions among members. This article examines the methodological challenges associated with defining, tracking, and explaining mobility at the household level. We describe a retroactive approach for linking individual household members across waves that was employed for the Making Connections survey, a cross-sectional and longitudinal study of 10 low-income urban communities. Our method involved comparing individuals at three different points in time using a combination of probabilistic matching software, data queries, and human review. The process produced personal identifiers that could be integrated with the household-level data to identify changes beyond numerical shifts in household size. We use the combined data to examine mobility across a gradient of stability in household composition. Our work advances past studies in two ways. First, our definition of adding or losing individuals is calculated based on the presence or absence of a specific person, rather than numerical change in the number of adults and children in the household. Second, we demonstrate a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of household mobility by examining various types of change in household composition—gaining, losing, or replacing individuals, or being repopulated entirely with new occupants—in combination with physical relocation during a 6-year period. A series of maps compares the patterns of residential movement and household composition change within a specific territory.

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