Intergenerational effects of mothers’ adverse childhood experiences on children’s social-emotional development

Zhang, L., Mersky, J. P., & Plummer Lee, C. (2022). Intergenerational Pathways Linking Mothers’ Adverse Childhood Experiences and Children’s Social-Emotional Problems. Child Abuse & Neglect. 


Despite the persistent hypothesis that adverse childhood experiences (ACE) have intergenerational implications, empirical research documenting the effects and the mechanisms of transmission remains underdeveloped. This study examined the intergenerational effects of mothers’ adverse childhood experiences on their offspring’s social-emotional development and whether the association was mediated by mothers’ mental health, adult adversity, and perceptions of paternal involvement. The study sample included 831 mothers (19–49 years old, 47.5% White) with children aged 12–48 months who participated in a longitudinal investigation of low-income families in Wisconsin. ACEs were assessed by home visitors, and two waves of survey data were collected by researchers to assess demographics, mediators, and social-emotional outcomes. A path analysis showed that the association between maternal ACEs and children’s social-emotional problems was fully mediated, with postpartum mental health acting as a primary mechanism. Implications for intervention and future research directions are discussed.

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