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Kids of Abused Mothers Much More Likely to Have Low IQ

Children of women who reported domestic violence in pregnancy or during the first six years of the child’s life are almost 50 percent more likely to have a low IQ at age 8, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Manchester in the U.K. found that 13 percent of children whose mothers did not experience domestic violence had an IQ of below 90 at the age of 8.

However, if mothers experienced physical violence from their partner either in pregnancy or during the first six years of the child’s life, it rises to 22.8 percent. And if a mother is repeatedly exposed to domestic violence, the chances of a child’s low IQ rises even more, to 34.6 percent, the researchers reported.

That means children with mothers who repeatedly suffer domestic violence during pregnancy and the first six years of their child’s life are almost three times more likely to have a low IQ at 8 years of age, the researchers explained.

Low IQ is defined as an IQ score less than 90. A normal IQ is considered to be 100.

The research team, led by Dr. Kathryn Abel from The University of Manchester, examined the link between domestic violence — also called intimate partner violence (IPV) — and child intelligence at 8 years old. They used data from 3,997 mother-child pairs from The University of Bristol’s Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, which follows children from pregnancy to 8 years old. That study found that 17.6 percent of mothers reported emotional violence and 6.8 percent reported physical violence.

The intelligence of the children was measured at 8 using the Weschler standardized IQ test.

“We already know that one in four women age 16 and over in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetime and that their children are at greater risk of physical, social and behavioral problems,” Abel said. “We also know that intelligence in childhood is strongly linked with doing well in adulthood, though there has been little evidence about the risk of low IQ for these children.”

“While we cannot conclude that IPV causes low IQ, these findings demonstrate domestic violence has a measurable link, by mid-childhood, independent of other risk factors for low IQ,” she added.

The findings are independent of other risk factors for low IQ, such as alcohol and tobacco use in pregnancy, maternal depression, low maternal education, and financial hardship around the child’s birth, the researchers note.

“Exposure to domestic violence is common for children in the UK and an important and often overlooked risk factor in their life chances,” said Dr. Hein Heuvelman of The University of Bristol. “So knowing the extent to which these already vulnerable children are further affected is a powerful argument for more, better, and earlier intervention.

“Current support for women experiencing domestic violence is inadequate in some areas and absent in others. Early intervention with these families protects children from harm, but it may also prioritize their future development.”

Funded by the Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council, the study was published in Wellcome Open Research.

Source: University of Manchester

Kids of Abused Mothers Much More Likely to Have Low IQ

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2019). Kids of Abused Mothers Much More Likely to Have Low IQ. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 16 Dec 2019 (Originally: 16 Dec 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 16 Dec 2019
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