Do Abused Children Become Abusive Parents?

The belief that abused children are likely to become abusive parents is widely accepted. The authors review the literature cited to support this hypothesis and demonstrate that its unqualified acceptance is unfounded. Mediating factors that affect transmission are outlined and the findings of several investigations are integrated to estimate the true rate of transmission. The authors concluded from past research that the rate of intergenerational transmission appears to be between 25 and 35 percent. Such a rate would suggest that about one-third of the parents who have histories of abuse will subject their children to abuse. Although that figure is about six times higher than the base rate for abuse in the general population, the authors argued that history of abuse is only one of many possible determinants of transmission. The authors closed by suggesting that the consequences for some adults of such unqualified acceptance of the intergenerational hypothesis is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Publication Date

April 1987

Publication Name

American Journal of Orthopsychiatry

Violence type

Kaufman J, Zigler E