Household crowding and reproductive behavior

Soc Biol. Fall-Winter 1992;39(3-4):212-30. doi: 10.1080/19485565.1992.9988818.


Ethological studies suggest that animal populations that live in crowded conditions display a number of behaviors that tend to limit the size of the population, such as aberrant forms of sexual behavior, small litter sizes, a higher incidence of spontaneous abortion, ineffectual maternal care, and even cannibalism of their young. Studies of household crowding in North America cities have produced only modest and selective evidence that crowding has similar effects among humans. In this paper, we examine the effect of household crowding on marital sexual relations, on desire for additional children, and on fetal and child loss in Bangkok, Thailand, a city with a much wider range of household crowding than is typically found in North America. In spite of the wider range, and higher mean level of crowding, we find that both the objective and subjective dimensions of crowding have only modest selective effects on sexual and reproductive behavior.

PIP: In ethological studies, animals have been observed to exhibit aberrant forms of sexual behavior when forced to live in crowded conditions. Studies in humans have indicated a possible connection between crowding and frequency of coitus, desire for additional children, the effective use of birth control, and the survival of offspring. The psychological distress which may arise from crowding may also have an impact on reproductive behavior. Because these studies give very little indication of possible findings in a very crowded area, focus groups were convened to lend direction to the development of a questionnaire for use in Bangkok, Thailand, where people live in conditions (12.25/sq. meter) which would be comparable to 17 people in a 1,500 sq. foot house in the West. The choice of Thailand for a research site allowed an exploration of the role of culture in reactions to crowding. In fact, the modest demeanor of the Thai people did mean that the subject of privacy was consistently raised in the focus groups. The resultant survey was administered to 1,399 wives and 618 husbands in families living in Bangkok for at least 1 year in 1988 who had at least 1 child with the mother under 45 years old. The average household samples had 5.5 people, including nuclear and 3-generation families. Scales were composed for perceived crowding, lack of privacy, and psychological distress. Findings were also tabulated for 1) frequency of sexual relations/month by sex, age, years married, age of oldest child, education, income, number of generations, number of married couples in the household, and health of respondent; 2) zero-order correlations among crowding, sexual relations, and reproductive behavior by frequency, reluctance, temporary cessation, desire for additional children, using birth control, forgot to use birth control, lack of privacy prevents use of birth control, child loss, miscarriage, and abortion; and 3) a standardized coefficient regression for the relationship between measures of reproductive behavior and objective and subjective crowding with the following controls: persons/room, lack of privacy, and psychological distress. Analyzing the data revealed that the objective level of crowding (persons/room) leads to greater reluctance to engage in sexual relations and some periods of temporary cessation, but does not affect frequency, desire to have children, use of birth control, or fetal and child survival. Subjective crowding leads to similar results, but these parents are less likely to have ceased sexual relations or to have lost a child. Lack of privacy affects only one measure examined; it increases reluctance to have sexual intercourse. Thus, these findings suggest that household crowding has a very minor impact, if any, on sexual and reproductive behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Crowding*
  • Ethology
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Female
  • Fertility*
  • Housing*
  • Humans
  • Marriage / psychology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Reproduction*
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Thailand
  • Urban Population*