Intergenerational transmission of abuse: a two-generational prospective study of an at-risk sample

Child Abuse Negl. 2001 Nov;25(11):1439-61. doi: 10.1016/s0145-2134(01)00286-1.


Objective: A model was examined in which the association between a parent's history of abuse and the parent's own abusive behavior toward his or her children was hypothesized to be mediated by parental psychopathology, early childbearing, and consistency of discipline. Additionally, the effect of severity of abuse on the likelihood of becoming abusive was examined.

Method: Participants were 109 parents (G1) and their male children (G2) who were involved in a longitudinal study. The G1 parents reported on their own experiences of abuse when they were children. Ten years later, the G2 youths reported on the G1 parents' abusive behavior toward them. A number of other factors, including parental socioeconomic status (SES), antisocial behavior, depression and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), consistency of discipline, and the perceived early difficulty of the G2 children were measured.

Results: As reported by their own children, parents who reported having been abused in childhood were significantly more likely to engage in abusive behaviors toward the next generation. Findings indicated that abuse experienced by the parents, as well as consistency of discipline and depression plus PTSD, were predictive of parental abuse of the child. Contrary to hypotheses, the effects were not fully mediated. However, there were significant interactions between parental history of abuse and consistency of discipline, as well as abuse history and depression and PTSD. Parents who had experienced multiple acts of abuse and at least one physical impact were more likely to become abusive than were the other parents.

Conclusions: The implications of these findings for preventive interventions are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intergenerational Relations*
  • MMPI
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Risk Factors