The role of harsh discipline in explaining sex differences in conduct disorder: A study of opposite-sex twin pairs

Madeline H. Meier, Wendy S. Slutske, Andrew C. Heath, Nicholas G. Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

13 Scopus citations


In the current study, two hypotheses about the role of harsh discipline (HD) in explaining the sex difference in the prevalence of conduct disorder (CD) were evaluated: that boys exhibit more CD than girls because (1) they are exposed to more HD and/or (2) there is a greater association between HD and CD in boys. These hypotheses were evaluated in a sample of male and female adult twins from different families (N∈=∈3,502) as well as a sample of adult twin brothers and sisters (N∈=∈655) in order to examine the extent to which sex differences remained after controlling for between-family differences. Retrospective reports of HD experienced between ages 6-13 and DSM-IV CD symptoms experienced before age 18 were obtained via structured psychiatric telephone interviews. Boys reported higher mean levels of HD and CD than girls, both between and within families, and the results of model-fitting analyses suggested that differences in the use of harsh disciplinary practices for sons versus daughters may partially explain the sex difference in the prevalence of CD. Between families, the relation between HD and CD was greater for girls than boys, but within families, there was no evidence of a sex difference in the relation between HD and CD. Inconsistent between-family and within-family results suggest that factors that differ between families are confounded with sex differences in the relation between HD and CD. A more stringent test of sex differences involves eliminating these between-family differences by studying boys and girls within the same family.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)653-664
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 1 2009



  • Conduct disorder
  • Harsh discipline
  • Sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

Cite this