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Effects of Housing Conditions: Overcrowding in Childhood and Mental Health in Early Adulthood

NCJ Number
D W G Timms
Date Published
90 pages
A review of studies linking the experience of residential overcrowding with mental health shows disagreements in both empirical findings and conceptual models.
Project Metropolitan is a longitudinal study of a cohort of 15,117 people born in 1953 and living in Stockholm in 1963. The data on the mental health of male members of the Project Metropolitan cohort is contained in the records of the Compulsory Draft Board Examination. Records are available for 96 percent of the population at risk. Of these, 11 percent were diagnosed as suffering from severe impairment relating to psychiatric disorder and a further 10 percent exhibit one or more less serious symptoms of psychiatric disorder. Based on the 1960 and 1970 Census and the 1963 population register data on overcrowding, those boys coming from overcrowded homes in 1960 had a 52 percent greater risk of being diagnosed as suffering from severe psychiatric impairment at the age of eighteen than boys living in uncrowded conditions. When overcrowding is present in only one of the two census years, the earlier experience has a greater impact than the later. Boys from households which are either smaller or larger than four persons have a higher prevalence of psychiatric disorder. There is a clear association in Stockholm between overcrowding and low socio-economic status. Within both crowded and uncrowded categories the highest prevalence of disorder is found among boys from lower status homes. The increase in risk resulting from the experience of overcrowding in childhood is greatest in the case of diagnosis associated with drug and/or alcohol dependency, and the least pronounced is in that of diagnoses associated with a slight impairment. 9 tables, 25 references. (Author abstract modified)