Intergenerational Transmission of Criminal Behaviour

  • Sytske Besemer
  • Laura Bui
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Prisons and Penology book series (PSIPP)


Children of incarcerated parents are prone to later criminal behaviour. Known as intergenerational transmission of crime, both parent and child exhibit criminal behaviour. In this chapter, we discuss theoretical explanations and summarise empirical evidence on this phenomenon. Intergenerational transmission can be explained by a combination of processes such as social learning, criminogenic environments, biological proneness and criminal justice bias that result in cumulative disadvantage for these children. Findings from the recently published meta-analysis on the intergenerational transmission of crime are used to summarise the research literature: on average, odds of criminal behaviour for children with criminal parents are about 2.5 times higher than for children without criminal parents. Studies taking into account covariates also showed increased risk for criminal behaviour, almost double the risk. Transmission seems strongest from mothers to daughters, followed by mothers to sons, fathers to daughters and fathers to sons. Moreover, transmission appears stronger for cohorts born after 1981, and in the USA compared with Sweden and Denmark. This lends support for the idea that a punitive environment (e.g. with many and long incarceration sentences) might impact intergenerational transmission. Finally, we consider limitations and directions for future research as well as policy implications for decreasing intergenerational crime.


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sytske Besemer
    • 1
  • Laura Bui
    • 2
  1. 1.Uber TechnologiesSan FranciscoUSA
  2. 2.University of ManchesterManchesterUK

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