Childhood adversity, parental vulnerability and disorder: examining intergenerational transmission of risk

Bifulco, Antonia ORCID logoORCID:, Moran, P.M., Ball, C., Jacobs, C., Baines, R., Bunn, A. and Cavagin, J. (2002) Childhood adversity, parental vulnerability and disorder: examining intergenerational transmission of risk. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 43 (8) . pp. 1075-1086. ISSN 0021-9630 [Article] (doi:10.1111/1469-7610.00234)


Background: An investigation of intergenerational factors associated with psychiatric disorder in late adolescence/early adulthood was undertaken to differentiate influences from maternal disorder, maternal poor psychosocial functioning and poor parenting, on offspring.

Method: The sample comprised an intensively studied series of 276 mother–offspring pairs in a relatively deprived inner-city London area with high rates of lone parenthood and socio-economic disadvantage. The paired sample was collected over two time periods: first a consecutively screened series of mothers and offspring in 1985–90 (n ¼ 172 pairs) and second a ‘vulnerable’ series of mothers and offspring in 1995–99 (n ¼ 104 pairs). The vulnerable mothers were selected for poor interpersonal functioning and/or low self-esteem and the consecutive series were used for comparison. Rates of childhood adversity and disorder in the offspring were examined in the two groups. Maternal characteristics including psychosocial vulnerability and depression were then examined in relation to risk transmission.

Results: Offspring of vulnerable mothers had a fourfold higher rate of yearly disorder than those in the comparison series (43% vs. 11%,p < :001). They were twice as likely as those in the comparison series to have experienced childhood
adversity comprising either severe neglect, physical or sexual abuse before age 17. Physical abuse, in particular, perpetrated either by mother or father/surrogate father was significantly raised in the vulnerable group. Analysis of the combined series showed that maternal vulnerability and neglect/abuse of offspring provided the best model for offspring disorder. Maternal history of depression had no direct effect on offspring disorder; its effects were entirely mediated by offspring neglect/abuse. Maternal
childhood adversity also had no direct effect.

Conclusions: Results are discussed in relation to psychosocial models of risk transmission for disorder. Maternal poor psychosocial functioning needs to be identified as a factor requiring intervention in order to stem escalation of risk across generations.

Item Type: Article
Research Areas: A. > School of Science and Technology > Psychology > Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies (CATS)
A. > School of Science and Technology > Psychology
Item ID: 12523
Useful Links:
Depositing User: Natasa Blagojevic-Stokic
Date Deposited: 02 Dec 2013 08:11
Last Modified: 09 Feb 2020 16:06

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