Journal of Quantitative Criminology

, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 831–852 | Cite as

A Prospective Examination of Criminal Career Trajectories in Abused and Neglected Males and Females Followed Up into Middle Adulthood

  • Cathy Spatz WidomEmail author
  • Jacqueline Horan Fisher
  • Daniel S. Nagin
  • Alex R. Piquero
Original Paper



To examine the extent to which there are differences in the developmental course of offending among individuals with maltreatment histories, compared to nonmaltreated controls, and whether these patterns vary for males and females.


This paper uses data from a longitudinal study in which abused and neglected children (N = 908) were matched with non-maltreated children (N = 667) and followed prospectively into adulthood. Group-based trajectory modeling was conducted using official criminal history records collected through mean age 51. Patterns of criminal offending were first considered for the whole sample, with abuse status and sex included as time-stable covariates, and then separately by subgroup (control females, maltreated females, control males and maltreated males).


Analyses revealed that a three-group model provided the best fit (nonoffenders, low-level chronic offenders, mid-level chronic offenders) for the overall sample. Child maltreatment and sex were significant predictors, with offenders more likely to be male and abused/neglected, compared to non-offenders. Separate analyses for the four subgroups revealed some similarities across groups in the characterization of offending trajectories, although trajectories for abused/neglected females differed significantly from trajectories for control females. Additional analyses suggest that desistance from offending may be largely a function of incapacitation due to early death, rather than imprisonment.


These new analyses provide evidence that child maltreatment affects patterns of offending and that there is an impact on females and males, although the impact differs by gender. Future research should build on this work by examining the mechanisms through which child maltreatment leads to differential patterns of offending throughout the life course.


Abused and neglected children Longitudinal offending patterns Criminal careers Gender differences 



This research was supported in part by grants from NIJ (86-IJ-CX-0033, 89-IJ-CX-0007, and 2011-WG-BX-0013), NIMH (MH49467 and MH58386), Eunice Kennedy Shriver NICHD (HD40774), NIDA (DA17842 and DA10060), NIAAA (AA09238 and AA11108) and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the US Department of Justice. We are grateful to anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Psychology Department, John Jay College of Criminal JusticeCity University of New YorkNew York CityUSA
  2. 2.Adolescent and Family ResearchThe National Center on Addiction and Substance AbuseNew York CityUSA
  3. 3.Heinz CollegeCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA
  4. 4.Program in CriminologyUniversity of Texas at DallasDallasUSA

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