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Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1999 Mar;56(3):215-9.

Maternal smoking during pregnancy and adult male criminal outcomes.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.



Perinatal risk factors are related to persistent and violent criminal outcomes. Prenatal maternal smoking may represent an additional perinatal risk factor for adult criminal outcomes. Our study examines maternal smoking during pregnancy as a predictor of offspring crime in the context of a prospective, longitudinal design.


Subjects were a birth cohort of 4169 males born between September 1959 and December 1961 in Copenhagen, Denmark. During the third trimester of pregnancy, mothers self-reported the number of cigarettes smoked daily. When the male offspring were 34 years of age, their arrest histories were checked in the Danish National Criminal Register. Additional data were collected concerning maternal rejection, socioeconomic status, maternal age, pregnancy and delivery complications, use of drugs during pregnancy, paternal criminal history, and parental psychiatric hospitalization.


Results indicate a dose-response relationship between amount of maternal prenatal smoking and arrests for nonviolent and violent crimes. Maternal prenatal smoking was particularly related to persistent criminal behavior rather than to arrests confined to adolescence. These relationships remained significant after potential demographic, parental, and perinatal risk confounds were controlled for.


Maternal prenatal smoking predicts persistent criminal outcome in male offspring. This relationship has not been accounted for by related parental characteristics or perinatal problems. Potential physiologic or central nervous system mediators between maternal smoking during pregnancy and offspring criminal outcomes need further study.

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