Maternal and paternal imprisonment in the stress process

Holly Foster*, John Hagan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Parental incarceration is now prevalent in community samples (e.g., with 11% of children reporting paternal imprisonment and 3% reporting maternal imprisonment in a national sample), pointing to a potentially important childhood trauma that should be included in work on contemporary childhood stressors in this era of mass incarceration. This paper investigates the influences of maternal and paternal imprisonment on changes in young adult mental health using a nationally representative sample. We assess four perspectives-gendered loss, same-sex role model, intergenerational stress, and maternal salience - on the joint influences of maternal and paternal incarceration within the broader stress process paradigm. The results generalize support for a gendered loss perspective developed in work on parental death and an early small study of parental incarceration. This pattern reveals maternal incarceration increases depressive symptoms while paternal incarceration increases substance role problems. Chronicity of parental imprisonment and its timing are also influential. Analyses further specify a vulnerability of male and minority young adults to high levels of mental health problems following maternal and paternal incarceration in adolescence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)650-669
Number of pages20
JournalSocial Science Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2013


  • Gender
  • Mental health
  • Parental incarceration
  • Stress process
  • Young adulthood

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science

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