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  1. Children growing up in a single-parent family have higher risk of criminal behaviour

Children growing up in a single-parent family have higher risk of criminal behaviour

Children growing up in a single-parent family have a higher risk of committing crime during their adolescence, concludes Janique Kroese (NSCR/VU) in her PhD thesis ´Broken homes and crime: differential effects of parental separation, parental decease, and being born to a single parent on the criminal involvement in offspring´. She will defend her PhD thesis on Thursday 19 May 2022.

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Relatively many children in the Netherlands grow up in a single-parent family. Until now it was unclear what consequences this has for possible criminal behaviour of these children. To investigate this, Kroese started with a systematic literature review. She then collected anonymized information about all registered Dutch citizens using Microdata from Statistics Netherlands (CBS). The data come mainly from the population register and is supplemented with data from various authorities, such as the Dutch police and the tax authorities (Belastingdienst).

Age at which a single-parent family is formed matters

Kroese shows that children who grow up in a single-parent family have an increased chance of committing crime. It does not matter whether the single-parent family was created as a result of a divorce or the death of a parent. What does matter is the age of the child: the younger the child is when the single-parent family arises, the higher the risk of criminal behaviour. Growing up with only a mother also increases the risk of crime, compared to growing up with only a father. This applies to both sons and daughters.

Temporary increase in crime immediately after a divorce

In addition, the research shows that there is a temporary increase in the risk of committing crime immediately after a divorce of the parents. Children, on the other hand, show a temporary decrease prior to the death of a parent. It also appears that children show a lower chance of committing crime if they no longer live with a criminal parent due to a divorce. In such a case, a divorce does not have to be disadvantageous. This is striking, since both parental crime and divorce, viewed separately from each other, actually increase the chance of committing crime.

In exceptional cases guardianship to only one parent

With her research, Kroese shows what risk factors are in single-parent families and the criminal behaviour of their children. When psychological help is offered to children from single-parent families, it would be useful to target 1) children who have lived in a single-parent family from birth or early age, 2) adolescents who have experienced a divorce or separation, especially in the first few years afterwards, and 3) adolescents in intact families where one or both parents commit crimes themselves. Her research also emphasizes the importance of a judge granting custody to only one parent in exceptional cases, for example when the other parent commits crimes. To gain a complete picture of the effects of growing up in single-parent families on juvenile delinquency, it is important to continue to conduct high-quality research on this topic in the future.

Publication details and further reading

Kroese, J. (2022). Broken homes and crime: differential effects of parental separation, parental decease, and being born to a single parent on the criminal involvement in offspringNSCR/VU.


Promotores: Prof. W. Bernasco, Prof. J. Rouwendal and Prof. A.C. Liefbroer

Dr Janique Kroese

Researcher

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