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Intergenerational Transmission of Convictions: Family Factors as Mediators



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Lee, Bomin 


Aims: To investigate the extent to which criminal conviction in one family generation predicts conviction in the next generation, and to identify possible factors and processes underlying both intergenerational continuity and discontinuity in convictions, with a focus, primarily, on family-related factors.

Methods: Both quantitative and qualitative methods were used based on data from the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (CSDD). Chi-square tests and logistic regression analyses were used to establish the strength of intergenerational transmission of convictions across three generations and to identify childhood risk factors as possible mediators of this transmission. Based on qualitative prospective in-depth interviews, the case histories of eight CSDD men and their family members across three generations were presented to provide a picture of the complexity of factors and associated mechanisms underlying both intergenerational continuity and discontinuity of criminal behaviour.

Results: I found evidence for the intergenerational transmission of convictions from G1 to G2 and from G2 to G3. Maternal transmission of convictions to children seems to be the strongest in most instances, irrespective of children’s gender. Evidence for some increased risk of convictions from G1 grandfathers to G3 grandsons and from G1 grandmothers and to G3 granddaughters was also found. The degree of intergenerational transmission of convictions decreased after controlling for family, socio-economic, and individual risk factors, but some risk factors that were important mediators for both G2 and G3 generations were related to the family home environments during childhood (such as poor parental supervision, parental separation, large family size, and low family income). Based on the life stories of the eight CSDD men, adequate parental supervision and monitoring, good relationships with parents, parental involvement in education, and high education attainments might act as protective factors, preventing some children from following in the footsteps of their criminal parents.

Conclusions: In keeping with Farrington’s first two mechanisms involving risk factors, the intergenerational transmission of convictions could be at least partially mediated by negative family environmental factors and/or due to a constellation of adverse childhood family features which facilitated a number of antisocial and deviant behaviours, including criminal behaviour. There is some evidence that family environmental influences play an important role in the intergenerational transmission of convictions, although I cannot rule out the possibility of genetic influences.





Ttofi, Maria
Farrington, David


convictions, intergenerational continuity, intergenerational discontinuity, family factors, mediators, risk factors, case histories, environmental influences


Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge