Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

The impact of parental offending on offspring aggression in early childhood: a population-based record linkage study



To examine the impact of parental criminal offending, both paternal and maternal, on offspring aggression at age 5 years, while also considering key risk factors, including parental mental illness, child’s sex, and socioeconomic disadvantage.


The sample comprised 69,116 children, with linked parental information, from the New South Wales Child Development Study, a population-based multi-agency, multi-generational record linkage study that combines information from a teacher-reported cross-sectional survey of early childhood development at age 5 years (the 2009 Australian Early Development Census; AEDC) with data obtained via administrative records from multiple sources (e.g., health, crime, education, and welfare). Hierarchical logistic regression analyses were conducted to determine the effects of maternal and paternal criminal court appearances (frequency and type of offending), and mental health service contacts, on offspring aggression measured in the AEDC.


Having a parent with a history of offending was significantly associated with high levels of offspring aggression in early childhood. The strength of association was greatest when parents were involved in frequent (≥6 offences: adjusted odds ratio [aOR] range = 1.55–1.73) and violent (aOR range = 1.49–1.63) offending. Both maternal and paternal offending remained significant predictors of offspring aggression after accounting for parental mental illness, and associations were similar in magnitude for maternal and paternal offending histories.


Parental history of severe criminal offending increased the risk of high levels of aggression in offspring during early childhood, highlighting the need for intervention with families during this key developmental period.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    In order to conduct the linkage, parents were identified using the children’s birth registration records.

  2. 2.

    Identified as having special needs by their teachers based on medical diagnosis if they required special assistance due to chronic medical, physical, or intellectually disabling conditions.

  3. 3.

    Parental mental illness included the following non-mutually exclusive categories: common (e.g., depression, anxiety; 7.7% of mothers; 2.8% of fathers), severe (e.g. bipolar, schizophrenia; 1.1% of mothers; 1.0% of fathers), substance use (2.6% of mothers; 2.8% of fathers), personality (0.7% of mothers; 0.5% of fathers), other adulthood onset (e.g., mental disorders due to brain damage, dementia; 5.0% of mothers; 2.8% of fathers), and other childhood onset disorders (e.g., conduct, attention deficit disorders; 0.2% of mothers; 0.2% of fathers).

  4. 4.

    To account for the potential influence of parental absence due to incarceration, analyses were conducted excluding the 1996 children with a parent who had been incarcerated (296 mothers and 1818 fathers). Results were unchanged.

  5. 5.

    Analyses were also conducted excluding children whose parents had a court appearance for non-criminal regulation offences only (e.g., speeding fines, debts; n = 2639) from the reference group. Results were unchanged.

  6. 6.

    The prevalence of other mental health problems known to be associated with offending (i.e., antisocial personality and childhood externalizing disorders) was too low to be examined separately.

  7. 7.

    Model diagnostics indicated the presence of underdispersion in the data. As a result, all analyses were also conducted using quasi-binomial generalized linear models (not presented here). The results did not differ from the logistic models, other than small increases in the standard errors.

  8. 8.

    Analyses with interaction effects between parental offending and mental illness were examined and were non-significant.


  1. 1.

    Farrington DP, Barnes GC, Lambert S (1996) The concentration of offending in families. Legal Criminol Psychol 1(1):47–63

  2. 2.

    Loeber R, Stouthamer-Loeber M (1986) Family factors as correlates and predictors of juvenile conduct problems and delinquency. Crime Just 7:29

  3. 3.

    van de Rakt M, Nieuwbeerta P, de Graaf ND (2008) Like father, like son: the relationships between conviction trajectories of fathers and their sons and daughters. Br J Criminol 48(4):538–556. doi:10.1093/bjc/azn014

  4. 4.

    Farrington DP, Jolliffe D, Loeber R, Stouthamer-Loeber M, Kalb LM (2001) The concentration of offenders in families, and family criminality in the prediction of boys’ delinquency. J Adolesc 24(5):579–596. doi:10.1006/jado.2001.0424

  5. 5.

    Falk Ö, Wallinius M, Lundström S, Frisell T, Anckarsäter H, Kerekes N (2014) The 1% of the population accountable for 63% of all violent crime convictions. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 49(4):559–571

  6. 6.

    Junger M, Greene J, Schipper R, Hesper F, Estourgie V (2013) Parental criminality, family violence and intergenerational transmission of crime within a birth cohort. Eur J Criminal Policy Res 19(2):117–133. doi:10.1007/s10610-012-9193-z

  7. 7.

    Thornberry TP, Freeman-Gallant A, Lizotte AJ, Krohn MD, Smith CA (2003) Linked lives: the intergenerational transmission of antisocial behavior. J Abnorm Child Psychol 31(2):171–184

  8. 8.

    Farrington DP, Coid JW, Murray J (2009) Family factors in the intergenerational transmission of offending. Criminal Behav Mental Health CBMH 19 (2):109–124. doi:10.1002/cbm.717

  9. 9.

    Bijleveld CCJH, Wijkman M (2009) Intergenerational continuity in convictions: a five-generation study. Criminal Behav Mental Health CBMH 19 (2):142–155. doi:10.1002/cbm.714

  10. 10.

    Vaughn MG, Salas-Wright CP, DeLisi M, Qian Z (2015) The antisocial family tree: family histories of behavior problems in antisocial personality in the United States. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 50(5):821–831. doi:10.1007/s00127-014-0987-9

  11. 11.

    Laurens KR, Tzoumakis S, Kariuki M, Green MJ, Hamde M, Harris F, Carr VJ, Dean K (2016) Pervasive influence of maternal and paternal criminal offending on early childhood development: a population data linkage study. Psychol Med Adv Online Publ. doi: 10.1017/S0033291716003007

  12. 12.

    Auty KM, Farrington DP, Coid JW (2017) The intergenerational transmission of criminal offending: exploring gender-specific mechanisms. Br J Criminol 57(1):215–237

  13. 13.

    Piquero AR (2008) Taking stock of developmental trajectories of criminal activity over the life course. In: Liberman A (ed) The long view of crime: a synthesis of longitudinal research. Springer, New York, pp 23–78

  14. 14.

    Frisell T, Lichtenstein P, Långström N (2011) Violent crime runs in families: a total population study of 12.5 million individuals. Psychol Med 41(01):97–105

  15. 15.

    Kendler KS, Ohlsson H, Morris NA, Sundquist J, Sundquist K (2015) A Swedish population-based study of the mechanisms of parent-offspring transmission of criminal behavior. Psychol Med 45(5):1093–1102. doi:10.1017/S0033291714002268

  16. 16.

    Beaver KM (2013) The familial concentration and transmission of crime. Criminal Justice Behav 40(2):139–155. doi:10.1177/0093854812449405

  17. 17.

    Frisell T, Lichtenstein P, Langstrom N (2011) Violent crime runs in families: a total population study of 12.5 million individuals. Psychol Med 41(1):97–105. doi:10.1017/S0033291710000462

  18. 18.

    Tremblay RE (2015) Antisocial behavior before the age-crime curve: can developmental criminology continue to ignore developmental origins? In: Morizot J, Kazemian L (eds) The development of criminal and antisocial behavior. Springer, Switzerland, pp 39–49

  19. 19.

    Raudino A, Fergusson DM, Woodward LJ, Horwood LJ (2013) The intergenerational transmission of conduct problems. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 48(3):465–476. doi:10.1007/s00127-012-0547-0

  20. 20.

    D’Onofrio BM, Slutske WS, Turkheimer E, Emery RE, Harden KP, Heath AC, Madden PA, Martin NG (2007) Intergenerational transmission of childhood conduct problems: a children of twins study. Arch Gen Psychiatry 64(7):820–829. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.64.7.820

  21. 21.

    Jaffee SR, Belsky J, Harrington H, Caspi A, Moffitt TE (2006) When parents have a history of conduct disorder: how is the caregiving environment affected? J Abnorm Psychol 115(2):309–319. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.115.2.309

  22. 22.

    Murray J, Farrington DP (2010) Risk factors for conduct disorder and delinquency: key findings from longitudinal studies. Can J Psychiatry 55(10):633

  23. 23.

    Moffitt TE (1993) Adolescence-limited and life-course-persistent antisocial behavior: a developmental taxonomy. Psychol Rev 100(4):674

  24. 24.

    DeLisi M, Vaughn MG (2014) Foundation for a temperament-based theory of antisocial behavior and criminal justice system involvement. J Criminal Justice 42(1):10–25

  25. 25.

    DeLisi M, Piquero AR (2011) New frontiers in criminal careers research, 2000–2011: a state-of-the-art review. J Criminal Justice 39(4):289–301

  26. 26.

    Broidy LM, Nagin DS, Tremblay RE, Bates JE, Brame B, Dodge KA, Fergusson D, Horwood JL, Loeber R, Laird R (2003) Developmental trajectories of childhood disruptive behaviors and adolescent delinquency: a six-site, cross-national study. Dev Psychol 39(2):222

  27. 27.

    Tremblay RE, Nagin DS, Seguin JR, Zoccolillo M, Zelazo PD, Boivin M, Perusse D, Japel C (2004) Physical aggression during early childhood: trajectories and predictors. Pediatrics 114(1):e43–e50

  28. 28.

    Tzoumakis S, Lussier P, Corrado RR (2014) The persistence of early childhood physical aggression: examining maternal delinquency and offending, mental health, and cultural differences. J Criminal Justice 42(5):408–420

  29. 29.

    NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (2004) Trajectories of physical aggression from toddlerhood to middle childhood: predictors, correlates, and outcomes. Monogr Soc Res Child Dev 69(4):vii, 1

  30. 30.

    Mazza JRS, Boivin M, Tremblay RE, Michel G, Salla J, Lambert J, Zunzunegui MV, Côté SM (2016) Poverty and behavior problems trajectories from 1.5 to 8 years of age: Is the gap widening between poor and non-poor children? Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 51(8):1083–1092

  31. 31.

    Odgers CL, Moffitt TE, Broadbent JM, Dickson N, Hancox RJ, Harrington H, Poulton R, Sears MR, Thomson WM, Caspi A (2008) Female and male antisocial trajectories: from childhood origins to adult outcomes. Dev Psychopathol 20(2):673–716. doi:10.1017/S0954579408000333

  32. 32.

    Vaughn MG, Salas-Wright CP, DeLisi M, Maynard BR, Boutwell B (2015) Prevalence and correlates of psychiatric disorders among former juvenile detainees in the United States. Compr Psychiatry 59:107–116

  33. 33.

    Brinkman S, Gregory T, Goldfeld S, Lynch J, Hardy M (2014) Data resource profile: the Australian early development index (AEDI). Int J Epidemiol 43(4):1089–1096

  34. 34.

    Brinkman SA, Silburn S, Lawrence D, Goldfeld S, Sayers M, Oberklaid F (2007) Investigating the validity of the australian early development index. Early Educ Dev 18 (3):427–451. doi:10.1080/10409280701610812

  35. 35.

    Janus M, Brinkman SA, Duku EK (2011) Validity and psychometric properties of the early development instrument in Canada, Australia, United States, and Jamaica. Soc Indic Res 103(2):283–297

  36. 36.

    Janus M, Offord DR (2007) Development and psychometric properties of the Early Development Instrument (EDI): a measure of children’s school readiness. Can J Beha Sci/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement 39(1):1

  37. 37.

    Andrich D, Styles I (2004) Final report on the psychometric analysis of the Early Development Instrument (EDI) using the Rasch Model: a technical paper commissioned for the development of the Australian Early Development Instrument (AEDI)

  38. 38.

    Hagquist C, Hellström L (2014) The psychometric properties of the Early Development Instrument: a Rasch analysis based on Swedish pilot data. Soc Indic Res 117(1):301–317

  39. 39.

    Brinkman SA, Gregory T, Harris J, Hart B, Blackmore S, Janus M (2013) Associations between the early development instrument at age 5, and reading and numeracy skills at ages 8, 10 and 12: a prospective linked data study. Child Indic Res 6(4):695–708. doi:10.1007/s12187-013-9189-3

  40. 40.

    Guhn M, Gadermann AM, Almas A, Schonert-Reichl KA, Hertzman C (2016) Associations of teacher-rated social, emotional, and cognitive development in kindergarten to self-reported wellbeing, peer relations, and academic test scores in middle childhood. Early Child Res Q 35:76–84

  41. 41.

    Carr VJ, Harris F, Raudino A, Luo L, Kariuki M, Liu E, Tzoumakis S, Smith M, Holbrook A, Bore M, Brinkman S, Lenroot R, Dix K, Dean K, Laurens KR, Green MJ (2016) New South Wales Child Development Study (NSW-CDS): an Australian multiagency, multigenerational, longitudinal record linkage study. BMJ Open 6 (2):e009023. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015-009023

  42. 42.

    DeLisi M (2005) Career criminals in society. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA

  43. 43.

    Australian Government (2011) Census of population and housing: socio-economic indexes for 481 areas (SEIFA)

  44. 44.

    IBM (2015) IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, Version 22.0. IBM Corp., Armonk, NY

  45. 45.

    Menard SW (2010) Logistic regression: from introductory to advanced concepts and applications. Logistic regression. SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA

  46. 46.

    DeLisi M, Vaughn MG, Salas-Wright CP, Jennings WG (2015) Drugged and dangerous prevalence and variants of substance use comorbidity among seriously violent offenders in the United States. J Drug Issues 45(3):232–248

  47. 47.

    Bornovalova MA, Cummings JR, Hunt E, Blazei R, Malone S, Iacono WG (2014) Understanding the relative contributions of direct environmental effects and passive genotype-environment correlations in the association between familial risk factors and child disruptive behavior disorders. Psychol Med 44(4):831–844

  48. 48.

    Moffitt TE (2005) The new look of behavioral genetics in developmental psychopathology: gene-environment interplay in antisocial behaviors. Psychol Bull 131(4):533

  49. 49.

    Blazei RW, Iacono WG, Krueger RF (2006) Intergenerational transmission of antisocial behavior: how do kids become antisocial adults? Appl Prev Psychol 11 (4):230–253. doi:10.1016/j.appsy.2006.07.001

  50. 50.

    Vitaro F, Brendgen M (2016) Introduction to the special section “Environmental effects on development: concordance and discrepancies between genetically-controlled and non genetically-controlled studies”. Int J Behav Dev 40(3):193–195

  51. 51.

    Payne JL, Piquero AR (2016) The concordance of self-reported and officially recorded lifetime offending histories: results from a sample of Australian prisoners. J Criminal Justice 46:184–195

  52. 52.

    Maxfield MG, Weiler BL, Widom CS (2000) Comparing self-reports and official records of arrests. J Quant Criminol 16(1):87–110

  53. 53.

    Australian Bureau of Statistics (2015) Release 4442.0—family characteristics and transitions, Australia, 2012–13 (Data cube: households, families and persons, selected characteristics by state). Australian Bureau of Statistics. Accessed 30 June 2016

  54. 54.

    Tremblay RE (2010) Developmental origins of disruptive behaviour problems: the ‘original sin’hypothesis, epigenetics and their consequences for prevention. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 51(4):341–367

  55. 55.

    Magnusson D, Bergman LR (1990) Data quality in longitudinal research. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

  56. 56.

    Piquero AR, Farrington DP, Welsh BC, Tremblay R, Jennings WG (2009) Effects of early family/parent training programs on antisocial behavior and delinquency. J Exp Criminol 5(2):83–120

  57. 57.

    Piquero AR, Jennings WG, Diamond B, Farrington DP, Tremblay RE, Welsh BC, Gonzalez JMR (2016) A meta-analysis update on the effects of early family/parent training programs on antisocial behavior and delinquency. J Exp Criminol 12(2):229–248

  58. 58.

    Olds DL, Sadler L, Kitzman H (2007) Programs for parents of infants and toddlers: recent evidence from randomized trials. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 48(3–4):355–391

  59. 59.

    Tremblay RE (2015) Developmental origins of chronic physical aggression: an international perspective on using singletons, twins and epigenetics. Eur J Criminol 12(5):551–561

Download references


This research was conducted by UNSW Australia with financial support from the Australian Institute of Criminology (Research Grant CRG 19/14–15); the Australian Research Council (Linkage Project LP110100150, with the New South Wales (NSW) Ministry of Health, NSW Department of Education, and the NSW Department of Family and Community Services representing the Linkage Project Partners); the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC; Project Grant APP1058652); and Australian Rotary Health (Mental Health Research Grant RG104090). MJG was supported by an NHMRC R.D. Wright Biomedical Career Development Fellowship (APP1061875). This research was conducted using population data owned by the Department of Education, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, and NSW Ministry of Health. However the information and views contained in this study do not necessarily, or at all, reflect the views or information held by these Departments. We would like to acknowledge Alessandra Raudino and Enwu Liu for assistance with the preparation of linked data.

Author information

Correspondence to Stacy Tzoumakis.

Ethics declarations

Ethical approval

Ethical approval was obtained from the NSW Population and Health Services Research Ethics Committee (HREC/11/CIPHS/14), with data custodian approvals granted by the relevant Government Departments, and has, therefore, been performed in accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments that are incorporated into the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council’s National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material. (PDF 472 KB)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Tzoumakis, S., Dean, K., Green, M.J. et al. The impact of parental offending on offspring aggression in early childhood: a population-based record linkage study. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 52, 445–455 (2017).

Download citation


  • Intergenerational transmission
  • Externalising behaviour
  • Parental mental illness
  • Data linkage
  • Epidemiology