Childhood behaviour problems predict crime and violence in late adolescence: Brazilian and British birth cohort studies

Joseph Murray*, Ana M B Menezes, Matt Hickman, Barbara Maughan, Erika Alejandra Giraldo Gallo, Alicia Matijasevich, Helen Gonçalves, Luciana Anselmi, Maria Cecília F Assunção, Fernando C. Barros, Cesar G. Victora

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Most children live in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), many of which have high levels of violence. Research in high-income countries (HICs) shows that childhood behaviour problems are important precursors of crime and violence. Evidence is lacking on whether this is also true in LMICs. This study examines prevalence rates and associations between conduct problems and hyperactivity and crime and violence in Brazil and Britain.

Methods: A comparison was made of birth cohorts in Brazil and Britain, including measures of behaviour problems based on parental report at age 11, and self-reports of crime at age 18 (N = 3,618 Brazil; N = 4,103 Britain). Confounders were measured in the perinatal period and at age 11 in questionnaires completed by the mother and, in Brazil, searches of police records regarding parental crime.

Results: Conduct problems, hyperactivity and violent crime were more prevalent in Brazil than in Britain, but nonviolent crime was more prevalent in Britain. Sex differences in prevalence rates were larger where behaviours were less common: larger for conduct problems, hyperactivity, and violent crime in Britain, and larger for nonviolent crime in Brazil. Conduct problems and hyperactivity predicted nonviolent and violent crime similarly in both countries; the effects were partly explained by perinatal health factors and childhood family environments.

Conclusions: Conduct problems and hyperactivity are similar precursors of crime and violence across different social settings. Early crime and violence prevention programmes could target these behavioural difficulties and associated risks in LMICs as well as in HICs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)579-589
Number of pages11
JournalSocial Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Cohort study
  • Conduct problems
  • Crime
  • Hyperactivity
  • Middle-income country


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