Experience of child-parent separation and later risk of violent criminality

Pearl Mok, Aske Astrup, Matthew Carr, Sussie Antonsen, Roger Webb, Carsten B. Pedersen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Separation from a parent during childhood has been linked with heightened longer-term violence risk, but it remains unclear how this relationship varies by gender, separation subgroup, and age at separation. This phenomenon was investigated by examining a wide array of child–parent separation scenarios.

National cohort study including individuals born in Denmark, 1971–1997 (N=1,346,772). Child–parent separation status was ascertained each year from birth to 15th birthday, using residential addresses from the Danish register. Members were followed up from their 15th birthday until the date of first violent offense conviction, or December 31, 2012. Incidence rate ratios were estimated using survival analyses techniques. Analyses were conducted during 2016–2017.

Separation from a parent during childhood was associated with elevated risk for subsequent violent offending versus those who lived continuously with both parents. These links were attenuated but persisted after adjustment for parental SES. Associations were stronger for paternal than for maternal separation at least up until mid-childhood and rose with the number of separations. Separation from a father for the first time at a younger age was associated with higher risks than if paternal separation first occurred at an older age, but there was little variation in risk associated with age at first maternal separation. Increasing risks were linked with rising age at first separation from both parents.

Violence prevention should include strategies to tackle a range of correlated familial adversities, with promoting a stable home environment being one salient aspect.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine
Issue number2
Early online date15 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


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