Children’s Genetic Sensitivity to the Effects of Parental Incarceration

Amanda B. Geller, New York University (NYU)
Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Columbia University
Irwin Garfinkel, Columbia University
Sara McLanahan, Princeton University
Colter Mitchell, University of Michigan
Daniel A. Notterman, Princeton University

The dramatic rise in incarceration in the late twentieth century, coupled with high rates of fatherhood among incarcerated men, has made incarceration a pressing concern for families. A growing literature has identified paternal incarceration as a driver of family stressors, and associations between paternal incarceration and children’s adverse behavioral outcomes. In this paper we use diathesis stress models to examine heterogeneity in estimated behavioral effects, and whether estimated incarceration effects are modified by children’s genetic sensitivity to environmental stressors. Examining the presence of sensitive alleles related to the production of dopamine and serotonin, we test for genetic moderation of established estimates of incarceration effects. We hypothesize that observed associations between fathers’ incarceration and children’s externalizing behaviors will be concentrated among children with greater genetic sensitivity, and that the insignificant relationship observed with children’s internalizing behavior masks a gene-environment interaction in which effects exist only for children with greater genetic sensitivity.

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Presented in Session 39: Parental Incarceration and Child Well-Being