Parental Incarceration and Children's Aggressive Behaviors: Evidence from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study

Christopher Wildeman, Princeton University

Incarceration diminishes the life-chances of adults, but little is known about how paternal incarceration affects children. Effects on early childhood aggression are especially significant because of their potential to increase children's later criminality. Using Fragile Families data, this paper considers the effects of paternal incarceration on children's aggressive behaviors at age 5. Results show strong effects of paternal incarceration on aggressive behaviors for boys but not girls. Results also show that effects are concentrated among boys living with a father at the time of his incarceration. The use of various modeling strategies and alternate independent and dependent variables demonstrates robustness. By increasing boy's aggression, paternal incarceration may promote the intergenerational transmission of crime and incarceration. In so doing, paternal incarceration could not only compromise public safety but also provide the groundwork for a permanently disadvantaged class for whom contact with the criminal justice system is normal.

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Presented in Session 109: The Demography of Crime and Punishment