Recent research suggests that childhood adversity exerts a lasting impact not only on the affected individuals but also on their offspring. Little is known about the role of parental rearing behavior in the transgenerational conveyance of parental childhood adversity and filial psychological health.
Hence, it was the aim of the current study to investigate the relationship between parental rearing behavior of former Swiss indentured child laborers ("Verdingkinder") and psychological health of their adult offspring.
We applied a two-generation control-group design with two parental samples (n=16, former "Verdingkinder," Mage=76.13, SD=6.81 and n=19, parental controls, Mage=72.63, SD=5.96) and their offspring (n=21, former "Verdingkinder" offspring, Mage=52.91, SD=5.90, and n=29 offspring controls, Mage=44.55, SD=7.71). Parental rearing behavior, childhood trauma, and psychological health were assessed with questionnaires. Data were analyzed using Bayesian analyses, where Bayes factors (BF) of 3 or higher were considered as substantial evidence for the tested hypotheses.
We found that "Verdingkinder" offspring reported more physical abuse (BF10=5.197) and higher total childhood trauma exposure (BF10=2.476). They described both their fathers (BF10=14.246) and mothers (BF10=24.153) as less emotional and their mothers as more punitive (BF10=18.725). An increased sense of reflection, for instance, one's ability to take different perspectives, was found in the offspring controls (BF10=5.245). Furthermore, exploratory analyses revealed that lower perceived familial emotionality was associated with higher psychopathology (all BF10=10.471) and higher pessimism (all BF10=5.396).
Our data provide cross-sectional evidence of a meaningful transgenerational relationship between parental childhood adversity, dysfunctional rearing behavior, and psychological health of offspring. Prospective studies are needed to investigate these findings in a longitudinal setting.