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Dev Psychopathol. 2013 Feb;25(1):17-35. doi: 10.1017/S0954579412000879.

Maternal age at first birth and offspring criminality: using the children of twins design to test causal hypotheses.

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, 1101 East 10th Street, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


Teenage childbirth is a risk factor for poor offspring outcomes, particularly offspring antisocial behavior. It is not clear, however, if maternal age at first birth (MAFB) is causally associated with offspring antisocial behavior or if this association is due to selection factors that influence both the likelihood that a young woman gives birth early and that her offspring engage in antisocial behavior. The current study addresses the limitations of previous research by using longitudinal data from Swedish national registries and children of siblings and children of twins comparisons to identify the extent to which the association between MAFB and offspring criminal convictions is consistent with a causal influence and confounded by genetic or environmental factors that make cousins similar. We found offspring born to mothers who began childbearing earlier were more likely to be convicted of a crime than offspring born to mothers who delayed childbearing. The results from comparisons of differentially exposed cousins, especially born to discordant monozygotic twin sisters, provide support for a causal association between MAFB and offspring criminal convictions. The analyses also found little evidence for genetic confounding due to passive gene-environment correlation. Future studies are needed to replicate these findings and to identify environmental risk factors that mediate this causal association.

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