Human Ecology

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 253–272 | Cite as

Residential density, social overload, and social withdrawal

  • Dennis McCarthy
  • Susan Saegert


The effects of residential density were examined in the following study through a comparison of experiences of tenants living in 14-story apartment buildings and those in three-story walkups within the same low-income housing project. It was hypothesized that tenants in the high-rise buildings would come into contact with large numbers of others in the public spaces of their buildings. As these contacts exceeded residents' interaction capacity or ability to process relevant incoming social stimuli tenants would experience social overload. This experience would be manifested by tenants' perceptions of crowding in the building, feelings of less control, safety, and privacy in the immediate residential environment, problematic social relationships among tenants and alienation and dissatisfaction with the residential environment generally. These experiences were not expected to occur for tenants in the low-rise walkups. Interview data supported these hypotheses and revealed, in addition, that high-rise apartment residents were less socially active beyond their building and felt a greater sense of powerlessness in effecting management decisions. Correlational analyses provided further evidence of the vast differences between residents' experiences of the two building types.

Key words

residential density crowding urban environment social overload 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dennis McCarthy
    • 1
  • Susan Saegert
    • 1
  1. 1.Graduate CenterCity University of New York

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