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Motherhood and Criminal Desistance in Disadvantaged Neighborhoods

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 48 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2010 Pages: 221-258
Date Published
February 2010
38 pages

Focusing on within-individual change, this study tested the motherhood hypothesis (motherhood has strong inhibitory effects on the delinquency and drug-use trajectories of poor women), using data from a 10-year longitudinal study of 567 multi-ethnic women living in disadvantaged neighborhoods in Denver, CO.


The study found that the transition to motherhood was significantly associated with reductions in delinquent behavior and the use of marijuana and alcohol. For all positive outcomes, the effect of motherhood was larger than the effect of marriage on the aforementioned factors. Given previous research findings for other types of female populations, the motherhood effect identified for this sample of disadvantaged women does not apply to the general populations of more affluent women nor to extremely disadvantaged women with problems so severe as to place them at a high risk for institutionalization. The findings of the current study suggest that within a context of bleak conventional prospects and ample illicit alternatives, having a child in the absence of the father can provide meaning and fulfillment for an otherwise empty and hollow life. The study used data from the Denver Youth Survey (DYS), which is an accelerated longitudinal survey of youth based on a probability sample of households in high-risk Denver neighborhoods. Each respondent was interviewed annually from 1988 to 1992 and from 1995 to 1999, thus covering ages 7 through 27. Relevant questions were asked on delinquency, drug use, motherhood, and pregnancy. The final sample of 567 women consisted of 10 percent Whites, 45 percent Latinos, 33 percent Blacks, and 12 percent from other racial/ethnic categories. 6 tables, 3 figures, 56 references, and appendix

Date Published: February 1, 2010