Adolescent study (1995-9)

In order to examine intergenerational transmission of risk from the mothers, their adolescent offspring were approached for study. 144 vulnerable mother-offspring pairs were interviewed for the study. This consisted of 90 mothers (64 followed-up and 26 newly screened mothers) of whom half had more than one offspring interviewed as a new pairing. Each of the pair was approached separately and interviewed in private by different interviewers.



To examine the characteristics of young people whose vulnerable mothers had already been studied, in order to test for inter-generational transmission of risk of disorder. Also to examine the young peoples own vulnerability for disorder in terms of their childhood experience and their inter-personal characteristics.


The sample

There were 100 mothers previously studied from the Coping mothers and Sisters samples who had at least one child in the age range required (16-30). Although as many as 70% of mothers approached who had at least one offspring in the required age range agreed to be re-interviewed, the final numbers were reduced due to offspring unavailability and cooperation. Thus of 187 eligible offspring, 25% (47) proved unobtainable (despite extensive efforts to track them down) and 18% (33) refused, resulting in 56% (105) of all eligible offspring and mothers agreeing to be interviewed. No significant differences were found between the compliant and non-compliant families in terms of the mothers' demographic or risk characteristics or rates of disorder at first contact. Thus the final numbers comprised 105 pairs (44 sons and 61 daughters) in the vulnerable series. To this were added the 26 newly screened and interviewed mothers who had a total of 39 suitable offspring.

The two series were similar in terms of demographic and risk characteristics and are combined for the following analysis. There were more daughters (78) than sons (68) interviewed. There were 36 sibling pairs (12 sister and 9 brother and 15 mixed sibling pairs). There were also 6 families with 3 siblings interviewed.


Measures used

  • Childhood Experience of Care and Abuse (and parenting in the mothers followed up)
  • Self-esteem, peer group and school experience
  • Attachment Style Interview
  • SCID for lifetime disorder


The Adolescents’ experience and disorder: The young people had high yearly rates of disorder (45%), involving depression; anxiety, substance abuse, and a small proportion with conduct disorder. They also had high rates of insecure attachment style (71%), with 47% insecure at more dysfunctional levels. Anxious attachment style (Enmeshed or Fearful) was associated with internalising disorder (major depression or anxiety). Statistical modelling confirmed that neglect/abuse from mother; negative evaluation of self and anxious attachment style provided the best-fit model for internalising disorder. Neglect/abuse from father and problems with peer group at age 16 had a direct relationship to externalising disorder, with negative evaluation of self, associated with peer group problems in boys only. Further analyses showed the added impact of bullying at school as a factor in later depression, as well as the experience of role reversal in the development of self-harm behaviour.

Intergenerational analysis: A path model was developed which showed that mothers’ insecure attachment style had no direct link to either recalled child neglect/abuse or currently assessed disorder in their adolescent and young adult offspring. The connections appeared to be indirect, through the quality of relationships in the family system: mothers’ insecure attachment and their partners’ problem behaviour accounted for variance in mothers’ incompetent parenting as rated by interviewers. These variables predicted her neglect/abuse of the child, which was the only variable directly associated with internalising disorder in her offspring. Mother’s lifetime depression did not add to the model. It is argued that an ecological approach (emphasising social adversity and different role domains), and a lifespan approach (emphasising a history of adverse relationships a different life stages) is important in understanding the mechanisms by which parental insecure attachment style influences transmission of risk to the next generation.



Five hundred people recall their life story… all kept  in one collection


Memories of childhood and of adult life: adversity, support relationships ...

Reports of coping style, self esteem,
relating styles,
psychological disorders ...