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Like Mother, like child? The intergenerational transmission of maternal offending

That parental offending acts as a strong risk factor for offending in children is well-established within criminology. Yet research on the effects of prior maternal offending is relatively limited, despite the fact that many women take on a significantly higher share of childcare responsibilities, and as such, might reasonably be expected to exert an especially strong influence on their children. Aimed in part at redressing this imbalance, this study investigates the intergenerational transmission of maternal offending, and whether prior maternal offending affects boys and girls in different ways. Drawing on the longitudinal Growing Up in Scotland survey, the analysis uses a series of regression models to assess to the risk of offending among a cohort of 12-year-olds.  In addition to maternal offending, the analysis also considers contemporaneous risk factors, including family functioning and structural deprivation, to ascertain whether past behaviours, more recent circumstances or a combination of both are most likely to predict offending in children.


The results provide strong evidence to support the transmission of maternal offending from mothers to daughters, however, when taking account of contemporaneous family functioning, we found no evidence to support the transmission from mothers to sons. The only common risk factor between boys and girls was the quality of parent-child relationships. The results also suggest that a much wider range of risk factors predict offending in vulnerable boys, including parental supervision, which exerts a particularly strong influence, child health, cognitive ability, parental maltreatment, and household deprivation. By contrast, none of these factors is significant for girls.

Policy implications

The result suggests that policy responses to child offending need to account for the different risks factors, experienced by boys and girls. In terms of potential actions, there is a case for general parenting initiatives that highlight the association between prior maternal offending and the risk of offending in daughters; the importance of parental supervision in boys, and the importance of good child-parent relationships for both boys and girls. Lastly, the link between offending in boys and household deprivation underscores the need for action to lift children out of poverty.

For further information contact Dr Kath Murray