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Criminal conviction among offspring with parental history of mental disorder

  • K. Dean (a1), P. B. Mortensen (a2), H. Stevens (a2), R. M. Murray (a1), E. Walsh (a1) and E. Agerbo (a2)...



Offspring of parents with mental disorder are at risk of a range of adverse outcomes. We sought to establish whether such risks extend to offending by examining rates of criminal conviction, including conviction for violent and sexual offences, among offspring of parents with mental disorder compared to offspring without parental disorder.


From a random sample of the Danish population, a cohort aged ⩽15 years (n=412 117) was followed for the occurrence of conviction between January 1981 and December 2006. Incidence rate ratios (IRRs) and cumulative incidences for offspring conviction by parental mental disorder status were calculated using a Cox regression model. Analyses were repeated for conviction for a serious first offence.


Offspring with history of parental mental disorder had higher rates of conviction than those without parental disorder; rates were highest for those with two affected parents [IRR 3.39, 95% confidence interval (CI) 3.08–3.73]. The association persisted when parental gender, offspring gender and the nature of parental disorder were considered. Absolute rates were lower but relative rates higher for female offspring (IRR 3.26 for males with two affected parents, 4.52 for females). Similar patterns were seen for conviction for serious offences. Associations were attenuated after adjustment was made for family socio-economic position (SEP) and parental criminality.


Offspring of parents with mental disorder represent a group at elevated risk of criminality. This raises the possibility of shared familial vulnerability for mental disorder and criminal behaviour, and highlights the need to consider early identification and intervention in this group.


Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: Dr K. Dean, Department of Forensic and Neurodevelopmental Science, PO 23, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AF, UK. (Email:


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