During the pandemic, the nationwide moratorium on evictions for rent non-payment had clear public health and economic goals: to reduce unnecessary COVID-19 transmission and avoid widespread homelessness.  But the benefits of the moratorium, which has been challenged in court and is now set to expire on June 30, might go far beyond the pandemic: a new study finds that evictions have detrimental effects on the physical and mental health of young adults for many years to come.

In a longitudinal study in Social Science and Medicine, Morgan K. Hoke and Courtney E. Boen find that eviction is associated with declines in mental and self-reported health as young people age. They analyzed survey data for individuals at three different points over a 14-year period from adolescence to adulthood. Young people who reported eviction over the previous year had more depressive symptoms and worse self-reported health status over time than those who did not report eviction. They also saw a rise in depressive symptoms over time for those that reported eviction between waves of the survey. The authors suggest that these impacts could have lasting (and possibly irreversible) effects on health and well-being, given how formative the young adult period is in an individual’s life.

This study also sheds light on the mechanisms underlying the relationship between eviction and health. As shown below, eviction can affect health through environmental and disease exposures, but also through psychological stress.  The authors measured stress in the study, finding that it mediated 18% of the relationship between eviction and subsequent negative health outcomes.

Figure 1. Pathways from Eviction to Poor Health Outcomes. Source: Hoke et al., Social Science & Medicine, 2021.   

Not surprisingly, the study shows that the burden of eviction falls disproportionately on lower-income young adults and those from impoverished communities. It also reveals the disproportionate impact of eviction on Black young adults, who made up 12% of the survey respondents but accounted for 23% of the reported evictions. As the authors note, this disparity is no coincidence—structural and institutional racism continues to present barriers for African-Americans in both accessing and maintaining adequate housing. This study provides evidence that eviction is a unique stressor and a channel through which racism contributes to longstanding and persistent health inequities.

Even before the pandemic, eviction was a significant concern for many, and this continues to be the case—some 8.8 million households had fallen behind on rental payments at the end of 2020. But by some estimates, local, state, and federal eviction moratoria also barred 1.6 million or more eviction filings from moving forward during the pandemic. As the fallout from COVID-19 continues and given the disproportionate impact of the virus on low-income communities and people of color, this study lends support to policies that keep people in their homes not only to reduce virus transmission, but to also mitigate the risk for other poor health outcomes, especially among Black and low-income youth.

The study, The Health Impacts of Eviction: Evidence From the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, was published in Social Science & Medicine in March 2021. Authors include Morgan K. Hoke and Courtney E. Boen

Morgan Hoke, PhD, MPH, is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Research Associate at the Population Aging Research Center (PARC) at the University of Pennsylvania. Courtney Boen, PhD, MPH is an Assistant Professor of Sociology, LDI Senior Fellow, and PARC Research Associate at the University of Pennsylvania.

Penn Population Aging Research Center