Background: Family psychosocial characteristics in childhood have been associated with children’s development into criminal behaviour and mortality. This study explored these possible relationships and examined alcohol and/or drug use and mental problems as possible mediating factors, highlighting gender-specific patterns.

Methods: Data from Swedish subjects born in 1953 (n = 14,294) from the Stockholm Birth Cohort study were examined. Several indicators of adverse family factors and individual problems were included in the present study. The information was derived from various data sources, covering different periods. Gender-specific associations with incidence of criminality (1966-1980) and mortality (1981-2009) were analysed using logistic regression. Furthermore, the population attributable fraction (PAF) was calculated for all variables in the fully adjusted models which were positively related to the outcome.

Results: Overall incidence of criminality and mortality was (m/f 32.3/6.6) and (m/f 6.1/3.5), respectively. The results showed that all aspects of family psychosocial and individual problems studied were associated with criminality for
both genders. Among males, individual problems seemed to partly mediate these relations, but the associations remained statistically significant. Interestingly, the PAF analysis revealed a reduction in criminality of 17.5% when individual problems with alcohol and/or drug use were considered. Among females, a significant impact of alcohol and/or drug use on the association between family psychosocial characteristics and subsequent criminality was obtained. Inclusion of father’s occupational class only somewhat reduced the estimates for the genders.
Concerning male mortality, father’s alcohol abuse was significantly related to an increased risk. When individual criminality was accounted for, the association was substantially reduced but remained statistically significant. Among females, when adjusting for family psychosocial factors, only the association between parents’ mental problems and females’ mortality was significant. None of the individual problem variables managed to explain this association.

Conclusions: Family psychosocial characteristics were associated with both subsequent criminal behaviour and mortality. These connections were partly explained by individual risk factors, especially by alcohol and/or drug use. The practical implications of the findings point to the importance of addressing the individual’s alcohol and/or drug use in reducing criminal behaviour, which would also lower the mortality rates.