• Conduct disorder;
  • conduct problems;
  • psychosocial adjustment;
  • longitudinal study

Background:  This paper seeks to extend research into the adult sequelae of childhood conduct problems by investigating the associations between conduct problems in middle childhood and psychosocial outcomes in adulthood.

Method:  Data were gathered during the course of a 25-year longitudinal study of a birth cohort of New Zealand young people. Information was collected on: a) parent and teacher reports of child conduct problems at ages 7, 8 and 9 years; b) measures of crime, substance use, mental health, sexual/partner relationships, education/employment; c) confounding factors, including childhood, family and educational characteristics.

Results:  There were statistically significant associations between childhood conduct problems from 7–9 years and risks of adverse outcomes across all domains of functioning. After control for confounding factors the associations between conduct problems and education/employment outcomes became statistically non-significant. Associations persisted for other outcomes (crime, substance dependence, mental health and sexual/partner relationships). Children in the most disturbed 5% of the cohort had rates of these outcomes that were between 1.5 and 19 times higher than rates for the least disturbed 50% of the cohort. The associations between conduct problems and adult outcomes were similar for males and females.

Conclusions:  Childhood conduct problems were associated with a wide range of adverse psychosocial outcomes (crime, substance use, mental health, sexual/partner relationships) even after control for confounding factors. The results reinforce the need for greater investment into interventions to address these problems.