Objective: To study the relationships between retrospective reports of exposure to interparental violence in childhood and rates of psychosocial adjustment problems in young adulthood in a birth cohort of New Zealand subjects.
Method: Data were gathered during the course of an 18 year longitudinal study of a birth cohort of 1,265 New Zealand children. At age 18 retrospective reports of exposure to interparental violence were obtained. At this time the cohort was also assessed on measures of psychosocial adjustment including mental health problems, substance abuse behaviors, and criminal offending.
Results: Young people reporting high levels of exposure to interparental violence had elevated rates of adjustment problems at age 18. These problems included mental health problems, substance abuse behaviors and criminal offending. Analyses using multiple logistic regression showed that much of this elevated risk was explained by social and contextual factors associated with exposure to interparental violence. However, even after adjustment for confounding factors, exposure to father initiated violence was associated with increased risks of anxiety, conduct disorder and property crime, while exposure to mother initiated violence was associated only with increased risks of later alcohol abuse/dependence.
Conclusion: Children exposed to high levels of interparental violence are an at risk population for psychosocial adjustment problems in young adulthood. Much of the elevated risk of these children arises from the social context within which interparental violence occurs. Nonetheless, exposure to interparental violence, and particularly father initiated violence, may be associated with later increased risks of anxiety, conduct disorder, problems with alcohol, and criminal offending.