Exploring the Transition to Parenthood as a Pathway to Desistance

Abstract

Purpose

While criminologists know a great deal about how marriage and employment affect criminal behavior, scholars remain equivocal about the relationship between the transition to parenthood and desistance. This study seeks to contribute to the literature by (1) exploring gender differences in the transition to parenthood; (2) exploring how women’s offending behavior varies across motherhood states (i.e., pregnancy); (3) assessing important contexts of the relationship between parenthood and desistance, such as timing, residency, and parental orientation; and (4) assessing whether these contexts work together as a “respectability package”.

Methods

I utilize data from The Pathways to Desistance Study, a longitudinal dataset of serious adolescent offenders, and fixed effects models to test whether the transition to parenthood is associated with periods of self-reported criminal desistance.

Results

This study finds that a binary measure of parenthood is often insufficient for exploring the effects of parenthood. Rather, the contextual nature of parenthood, particularly the timing of transition, residence with a child, and being highly invested in parenthood, reduces one’s odds of offending. Additionally, these contexts work together as a parenthood respectability package. However, these results vary by gender and offense type.

Conclusions

The transition to parenthood, including both pregnancy and motherhood, seems to be an important factor for periods of temporary desistance among women, while the transition to fatherhood is associated with periods of aggressive offending desistance. The contexts of parenthood also work in gendered and offense-specific ways.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This validity concern stems from a potential coding error for frequency of offending during the baseline interview. The research team realized that some interviewers recorded the number of times the youth made a sale versus the number of days that the subject sold drugs which inflated the baseline counts for some offenses (personal correspondence with Carol Shubert).

  2. 2.

    Due to conceptual overlap in the offending items, two of the items (taking something by force with or without the use of a weapon) are included in both the aggressive offending and income offending measures (see http://www.pathwaysstudy.pitt.edu/codebook/sro-sf.html).

  3. 3.

    Several additional dummy variables were created to capture the “embeddedness” of motherhood for women and men as well. These dummy variables capture entry into first pregnancy, motherhood, and motherhood with an additional pregnancy. For fathers, dummies captured having a pregnant girlfriend with no other children, fatherhood, and fatherhood with a pregnant girlfriend. All of these dummy categories used non-parenthood (waves in which women and men reported no pregnancies or children) as the reference group. Supplemental analyses were consistent with those reported here, thus not presented (available upon request).

  4. 4.

    Supplemental analyses were completed using the continuous measure of parental orientation as well. Results are consistent with those that use the dummied measures (results available upon request). I present these dummy categories rather than the continuous measure because it is a measure of the strength or attachment to the parenthood role rather than the general direction of this relationship that is theoretically more meaningful [28, 29].

  5. 5.

    Although restricting the respectability package to only waves in which respondents report a high parental orientation would be the strongest test of a respectability package, the number of person-waves for women who meet all of these requirements is quite small and made estimates unreliable. Thus, I broadened the respectability package to include waves in which parental orientation was at least a score of 3 (agree) or higher.

  6. 6.

    Supplemental analyses were completed using a variety of other dummy groups, and results are consistent indicating a robust and consistent pattern regardless of how age is measured in the models. Results available on request.

  7. 7.

    State run training schools

  8. 8.

    A Hausman test was also performed on preliminary models and indicated that a fixed effects model was superior to a random effects model (p < .001).

  9. 9.

    Analyses were completed among parent-only sub-samples (results available on request). However, due to the loss of statistical power as well as the conceptual interest in comparing different contexts of parenthood to non-parenthood, a variety of dummy variables were used for the presented models rather than limiting analysis only to parenthood waves.

  10. 10.

    This finding is surprising given that Na [41] found adolescent transition to parenthood to be a risk factor that increased subsequent offending. This difference in finding could be due to two methodological choices. First, we use different outcomes: I use a measure of temporary desistance (no offending) whereas Na uses an offending variety score (a measure that captures the variety of offending one engages in). Second, we use different analytical strategies: I use fixed effects which account for unobserved heterogeneity whereas Na uses a matched probability sampling method. While men can be relatively well matched on a variety of indicators, matching cannot account for unobserved heterogeneity and potential selection into teen fatherhood.

  11. 11.

    Although a measure of cohabitation with a significant other is available via questions regarding household composition, this question does not distinguish whether the significant other is a spouse, girl/boyfriend, or parent of child. In supplemental analysis in which cohabitation was included, missing data led to a loss in statistical power and cohabitation was non-significantly related to offending patterns, thus it is not included in models here.

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Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank Kristin Jordan and Lindsey Trimble O’Connor as well as three anonymous reviewers for their comments and feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Leslie Abell.

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Appendix

Appendix

Table 7 List of total, aggressive, and income offending items

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Abell, L. Exploring the Transition to Parenthood as a Pathway to Desistance. J Dev Life Course Criminology 4, 395–426 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40865-018-0089-6

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Keywords

  • Life-course criminology
  • Transition to parenthood
  • Gender differences
  • Desistance