Skip to main content


Log in

Maternal Behavior Prior to Parenting as a Transgenerational Predictor of Offspring Behavior

  • Original Paper
  • Published:
Journal of Child and Family Studies Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Behavior problems influence development at multiple stages over the lifespan. The present study explores the relations between maternal behavior prior to parenting and offspring behavior problems in childhood and adolescence using National Longitudinal Survey of Youth data (N = 2,820 dyads with 50.0 % male offspring and 52.2 % of ethnic/racial minority status). Index scores for behavior problems were created for mothers prior to parenting and for offspring at two time points. Path analyses indicated that maternal behavior problems prior to parenthood predicted offspring being at increased risk for behavior problems in childhood and adolescence. Mothers’ behavior had a significant influence on adolescent behavior, even after childhood behavior problems and demographic covariates were taken into account. Post-hoc analyses demonstrated the stability of behavior problems is especially strong for males. Results support a long tradition of research and the external validity of the stability of behavior problems as well as the importance of maternal behavior prior to parenthood for their future offspring across development. Clinical and policy implications are discussed.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Similar content being viewed by others


  • American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC.

  • Belsky, J., & Beaver, K. M. (2011). Cumulative-genetic plasticity, parenting, and adolescent self-regulation. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 52, 619–626.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • D’Onofrio, B. M., Slutske, W. S., Turkheimer, E., Emery, R. E., Harden, K. P., Heath, A. C., et al. (2007). Intergenerational transmission of childhood conduct problems: A children of twins study. Archives of General Psychiatry, 64, 820–829.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Dodge, K. A., Pettit, G. S., & Bates, J. E. (1994). Socialization mediators of the relation between socioeconomic status and child behavior problems. Child Development, 65(2), 649–665. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.1994.tb00774.x.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Ehrensaft, M. K., Cohen, P., Brown, J., Smailes, E., Chen, H., & Johnson, J. G. (2003). Intergenerational transmission of partner violence: A 20-year prospective study. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 741–753.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Fatori, D., Bordin, I. A., Curto, B. M., & de Paula, C. S. (2013). Influence of psychosocial risk factors on the trajectory of mental health problem from childhood to adolescence: A longitudinal study. BMC Psychiatry, 17, 13–31.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fite, P. J., Wynn, P., & Pardini, D. A. (2009). Explaining discrepancies in arrest rates between Black and White male juveniles. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 77, 916–927. doi:10.1037/a0016626.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Frick, P. J., Barry, C. T., & Kamphaus, R. W. (2010). Clinical assessment of child and adolescent personality and behavior (3rd ed.). New York: Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4419-0641-0.

  • Goldstein, R. B., Prescott, C. A., & Kendler, K. S. (2001). Genetic and environmental factors in behavior problems and adult antisocial behavior among adult female twins. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 189(4), 201–209. doi:10.1097/00005053-200104000-00001.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Harold, G. T., Rice, F., Hay, D. F., Boivin, J., van den, B. M., & Thapar, A. (2010). Familial transmission of depression and antisocial behavior symptoms: Disentangling the contribution of inherited and environmental factors and testing the mediating role of parenting. Psychological Medicine, 22, 1–11.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Herpertz, S. C., Vloet, T., Mueller, B., Domes, G., Willmes, K., & Herpetz-Dahlmann, B. (2007). Similar autonomic responsivity in boys with behavior disorder and their fathers. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 46, 535–544.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Humbad, M. N., Donnellan, M. B., Iacano, W. G., & Burt, S. A. (2010). Externalizing psychopathology and marital adjustment in long-term marriages: Results from a large combined sample of married couples. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 119, 151–162. doi:10.1037/a0017981.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Kerr, D. C., Capaldi, D. M., Pears, K. C., & Owen, L. D. (2009). A prospective three generational study of fathers’ constructive parenting: Influences from family of origin, adolescent adjustment, and offspring temperament. Developmental Psychopathology, 45, 1257–1275.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kimonis, E. R., & Frick, P. J. (2010). Etiology of oppositional defiant disorder and behavior disorder: Biological, familial and environmental factors identified in the development of disruptive behavior disorders. In R. C. Murrihy, A. D. Kidman, & T. H. Ollendick (Eds.), Clinical handbook of assessing and treating behavior problems in youth (pp. 49–76). New York: Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4419-6297.

  • Klein, R. G., Mannuzza, S., Olazagasti, M. A., Roizen, E., Hutchison, J. A., Lashua, E. C., et al. (2012). Clinical and functional outcome of childhood attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder 33 years later. Archives of General Psychiatry, 69, 295–303.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lindsey, M. A., Chambers, K., Pohle, C., Beall, P., & Lucksted, A. (2013). Understanding the behavioural determinants of mental health service use by urban, under-resourced black youth: Adolescent and caregiver perspectives. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 22, 107–121.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Martin, S. L., & Burchinal, M. R. (1992). Young women’s antisocial behavior and the later emotional and behavioral health of their children. American Journal of Public Health, 82, 1007–1010.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Miller, C. J., Miller, S. R., Trampush, J., McKay, K. E., Newcorn, J. H., & Halperin, J. M. (2006). Family and cognitive factors: Modeling risk for childhood aggression at home and school. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 45, 355–363.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Moffitt, T. E., Caspi, A., Dickson, N., Silva, P., & Stanton, W. (1996). Childhood-onset versus adolescent-onset antisocial behavior problems in males: Natural history from ages 3 to 18 years. Development and Psychopathology, 8, 399–424. doi:10.1017/S0954579400007161.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Muthen, L., & Muthen, B. O. (2011). Mplus (6th ed.). Los Angeles: Author.

    Google Scholar 

  • Odgers, C. L., Caspi, A., Russell, M. A., Sampson, R. J., Arseneault, L., & Moffitt, T. E. (2012). Supportive parenting mediates neighborhood socioeconomic disparities in children’s antisocial behavior from ages 5 to 12. Developmental Psychopathology, 24, 705–721. doi:10.1017/S0954579412000326.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Raine, A., Moffitt, T. E., Caspi, A., Loeber, R., Stouthamer-Loeber, M., & Lynam, D. (2005). Neurocognitive impairments in boys on the life-course persistent antisocial path. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 114, 38–49.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Randolph, K. A., Rose, R. A., Fraser, M. W., & Orthner, D. K. (2004). Examining the impact of changes in maternal employment on high school completion among low-income youth. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 25, 279–299. doi:10.1023/B:JEEI.0000039943.84765.0a.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rappaport, N., Flaherty, L. T., & Hauser, S. T. (2006). Beyond psychopathology: Assessing seriously disruptive students in school settings. Journal of Pediatrics, 149, 252–256.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Silberg, J. L., Maes, H., & Eaves, L. J. (2012). Unraveling the effect of genes and environment in the transmission of parental antisocial behavior to children’s conduct disturbance, depression and hyperactivity. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 53, 668–677. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2011.02494.x.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Simkin, D. R. (2002). Adolescent substance use disorders and comorbidity. Pediatric Clinic of North America, 49, 463–477.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thornton, L. C., Frick, P. J., Crapanzano, A. M., & Terranova, A. M. (2012). The incremental utility of callous-unemotional traits and behavior problems in predicting aggression and bullying in a community sample of boys and girls. Psychological Assessment. Epub ahead of print.

  • United States Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2002). Children of the NLSY79: Chapter 4. Retrieved from

  • United States Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2002). National Longitudinal Surveys: NLSY79 Children and Young Adults. Retrieved from

  • United States Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2003). NLSY79: Chapter 3. Retrieved from

  • van der Molen, E., Hipwell, A. E., Vermeiren, R., & Loeber, R. (2011). Maternal characteristics predicting young girls’ disruptive behavior. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 40, 179–190.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • van der Molen, E., Hipwell, A. E., Vermeiren, R., & Loeber, R. (2012). Cumulative effect of mothers’ risk and promotive factors on daughters’ disruptive behaviors. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 40, 239–727. doi:10.1007/s10802-011-9595-2.

    Google Scholar 

  • Waschbusch, D. A. (2002). A meta-analytic examination of comorbid hyperactive-impulsive- attention problems and behavior problems. Psychological Bulletin, 128(1), 118–150. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.128.1.118.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Wymbs, B., Molina, B., Pelham, W., Cheong, J., Gnagy, E., Belendiuk, K., et al. (2012). Risk of intimate partner violence among young adult males with childhood ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 16, 373–378. doi:10.1177/1087054710389987.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors wish to thank Dr. Kim Babb and Ms. Dragana Ostojic for their comments on a previous version of the manuscript. This study was completed as an honours thesis in partial fulfillment of degree requirements by the first author and under the direct supervision of the final author.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Carlin J. Miller.


Appendix 1

See Table 2.

Table 2 Variables utilized in the mother as adolescent behavior problem index score

Appendix 2

See Table 3.

Table 3 Variables utilized in the childhood behavior problem index score and the adolescent behavior problems index score

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Trella, R.N.S., Miller, S.R., Edelstein, D. et al. Maternal Behavior Prior to Parenting as a Transgenerational Predictor of Offspring Behavior. J Child Fam Stud 23, 1501–1509 (2014).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: