Exploring the Transition to Parenthood as a Pathway to Desistance

Open Access
Abell, Leslie Marie
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 02, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Jeremy Staff, Dissertation Advisor
  • David R Johnson, Committee Member
  • Derek Allen Kreager, Committee Member
  • Jennifer Lianne Maggs, Committee Member
  • Life course
  • criminology
  • parenthood
  • substance use
Desistance is a flourishing topic in criminology, and while criminologists know a great deal about how marriage and employment affect criminal behavior, the effects of parenthood remain equivocal. This study uses data from The Pathways to Desistance Study to test whether the transition to parenthood leads to criminal desistance and reductions in substance use. It contributes to the existing literature in three specific ways. First, it tests the transition to parenthood, including pregnancy, parenthood without pregnancy, and additional pregnancies as a parent. The ability to capture behavioral changes at each distinct stage in the transition to parenthood is an improvement over studies which often rely on a binary measure of whether the individual is a parent or not. Second, it explores the context of residency and how parenthood, paired with residency or nonresidency, affects behavior. Third, it tests a theoretically important mechanism of desistance – parental orientation. Despite the centrality of this mechanism in theories of desistance, measures of attachment to parenthood are noticeably absent in empirical tests of parenthood, criminal offending, and substance use. This study finds that a binary measure of parenthood is often insufficient for exploring the effects of parenthood. Rather, the contextual nature of parenthood, particularly being a parent who resides with a child, is negatively related to one’s offending and substance use. Further, for women, substance use significantly declines during pregnancy, and often continues to decline as a woman becomes further embedded in motherhood. Finally, parental orientation does not seem to be a better predictor of criminal desistance or of substance use than a binary indicator of parenthood.