Why is young maternal age at first childbirth a risk factor for persistent delinquency in their male offspring? Examining the role of family and parenting factors

Eveline van Vugt, Rolf Loeber, Dustin Pardini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Scopus citations


Background: Children born to mothers who were younger than average at their first childbirth are at increased risk for future persistent delinquent behaviour, but explanations for this remain unclear. Aims: Our aim was to identify possible family and parenting variables that may help explain this relationship. We hypothesised that parental stress, large number of children in the home, low socioeconomic status (including neighbourhood problems) and poor parenting would account for the link between early first motherhood and their offspring's delinquency. Methods: Four hundred and sixty-two boys were selected from the Pittsburgh Youth Study, a longitudinal study of a random sample of school boys in Pittsburgh, initially assessed half-yearly and then annually from 7 to 19years of age, using self-reporting and other reporting methods. Indirect effect models were used to test relationships between variables. Results: Higher levels of parental stress, poorer parent-child communication and caring for a larger number of children all mediated the relationship between maternal youth and persistent delinquency by their boys, but only explained about 20% of it. Discussion: At least partial explanations of the relationship between a mother's age at first childbirth and persistent delinquency in her male offspring suggest that future research should test whether early interventions with younger mothers to decrease their sense of stress in parenting and improve their capacity for communication with their child(ren) may help to prevent persistent delinquency in their boys. Programmes designed to help young women make more informed and planned decisions about their pregnancies should also be evaluated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalCriminal Behaviour and Mental Health
StateAccepted/In press - 2015
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)

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