The Causal Relationship between Childhood Adversity and Developmental Trajectories of Delinquency: A Consideration of Genetic and Environmental Confounds

  • Eric J. ConnollyEmail author
  • Nicholas Kavish
Empirical Research


An extensive line of research has found that children exposed to multiple forms of early life adversity are more likely to engage in high levels of delinquent behavior during adolescence. Several studies examining this association have used a range of multivariate statistical techniques capable of controlling for observable covariates. Fewer studies have used family-based research designs to additionally control for unobservable confounds, such as genetic and shared environmental influences, that may be associated with exposure to childhood adversity and delinquency. The current study analyzes self-report data on 2534 full-siblings (50% female) from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 to conduct a sibling-comparison analysis to provide a rigorous test of the causal hypothesis that exposure to childhood adversity causes differences in developmental patterns of delinquent behavior. Results from multivariate latent growth curve models revealed that childhood adversity was associated with higher starting levels of delinquency during adolescence and slower rates of decline from adolescence to emerging adulthood. Results from multivariate sibling-comparison models, however, revealed that siblings exposed to higher levels of childhood adversity reported higher starting levels of delinquent behavior, but not slower declines over time, suggesting that childhood adversity may not be directly associated with long-term patterns of delinquent behavior after genetic and shared environmental factors are taken into account. Implications of these results for future research are discussed.


Childhood adversity Delinquency Siblings Genetic Environmental NLSY97 



We would like to thank Roger J.R. Levesque, Kevin M. Beaver, Joseph A. Schwartz, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript.

Authors’ Contributions

E.J.C. conceived of the study, conducted the analysis, interpreted the results, and drafted the manuscript; N.K. helped to draft the manuscript. Both authors read and approved the final version of the manuscript.

Data Sharing and Declaration

This manuscript’s data will not be deposited.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

The authors received ethical approach for all research conducted in the current study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Criminal Justice and CriminologySam Houston State UniversityHuntsvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychology and PhilosophySam Houston State UniversityHuntsvilleUSA

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