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Child-driven genetic factors can contribute to negative parenting and may increase the risk of being maltreated. Experiencing childhood maltreatment may be partly heritable, but results of twin studies are mixed. In the current study, we used a cross-sectional extended family design to estimate genetic and environmental effects on experiencing child maltreatment. The sample consisted of 395 individuals (225 women; M age = 38.85 years, rangeage = 7–88 years) from 63 families with two or three participating generations. Participants were oversampled for experienced maltreatment. Self-reported experienced child maltreatment was measured using a questionnaire assessing physical and emotional abuse, and physical and emotional neglect. All maltreatment phenotypes were partly heritable with percentages for h 2 ranging from 30% (SE = 13%) for neglect to 62% (SE = 19%) for severe physical abuse. Common environmental effects (c 2) explained a statistically significant proportion of variance for all phenotypes except for the experience of severe physical abuse (c 2 = 9%, SE = 13%, p = .26). The genetic correlation between abuse and neglect was ρg = .73 (p = .02). Common environmental variance increased as socioeconomic status (SES) decreased (p = .05), but additive genetic and unique environmental variances were constant across different levels of SES.


© The Author(s) 2019. Original published version available at

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

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Publication Title

Child Maltreatment



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Mentor/PI Department

Office of Human Genetics



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