Child, Maternal, and Family Characteristics Associated with SpankingAuthor(s): Jean Giles-Sims, Murray A. Straus, David B. SugarmanSource: Family Relations, Vol. 44, No. 2 (Apr., 1995), pp. 170-176Published by: National Council on Family RelationsStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/584804Accessed: 23/01/2010 19:50
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CHILD, MATERNAL, AND FAMILY CHARACTERISTICS ASSOCIATED WITH SPANKING*
Jean Giles-Sims, Murray A. Straus, and David B. Sugarman"
This article presents descriptive data on frequency and distribution of spanking by mothers in the National Longitudinal Sur- vey of Youth (NLSY). Spanking rates are high for all groups, but patterns also vary by age, sex, SES, marital status, ethnicity, re- ligion, region, and community type. Policy discussion focuses on reevaluation of spanking norms, arguments for using the term corporal punishment in research and policy, and strategies to reduce the use ofphysicalforce as discipline.
A lmost all children in the United [S States are spanked by their par-
nts at some point in their lives. Spanking as a form of discipline receives support based on religious traditions (Greven, 1991) and widespread beliefs in the positive effects of corporal pun- ishment on children (Graziano & Na- maste, 1990; Straus, 1991); however, re- search indicates that spanking increases a child's risk of both short- and long- term negative side effects (Straus & Kaufman Kantor, in press). Having been spanked as a child and/or adolescent is related to later psychological problems including an increased chance of being depressed and thinking about suicide (Straus, in press), becoming violent and delinquent (Straus, 1991), and experi- encing alienation and lower economic achievement (Straus & Gimpel, 1992; Straus, in press). Because information about these side effects raises policy concerns, family practitioners need to know as much as possible about this dis- ciplinary strategy, starting with an un- derstanding of how frequently and chronically parents use it and how it varies according to the social character- istics of parents and children.
This article describes patterns of legally permissible violence (spanking) as preliminary to more extensive re- search on the causes and consequences of corporal punishment and to discus- sions of policy-related issues. Descrip- tive data inform family life educators and policy makers on the extent of the prob- lem and whether it is limited primarily to particular groups. Description also provides a basis for research on poten- tial correlational or causal factors. This article, therefore, provides: (a) national estimates of mothers' patterns of spank- ing by the age of child; (b) analyses of the relationships between selected child, maternal, and family characteris- tics and rates of spanking preschoolers; and (c) a discussion of spanking norms and policy recommendations for reduc- ing the use of physical force as punish- ment. Data will be presented on two as-
pects of spanking: prevalence and chronicity. Prevalence is the percentage of mothers who reported spanking their children during the last week and chronicity refers to the frequency of ma- ternal spanking among only those moth- ers who reported that they had spanked their children in the referent week.
Some people use the term spanking to mean a specific type of physical pun- ishment, such as slapping a child's but- tocks. Other people use it as a generic term to include other legal forms of cor- poral punishment, such as slapping a child. As the research and policy arena of corporal punishment receives increas- ing attention, it is essential to clarify the terminology that legitimizes spanking. In the discussion, we recommend that re- searchers, family life educators, and poli- cy makers use more clearly defined ter- minology to describe the use of physical force on children that does not carry an a priori legitimizing meaning.
Prevalence and Chronicity Prevalence data (i.e., the percentage
of children spanked during a given time period) consistently indicate very high rates of spanking, especially for toddlers and preschool children. Data from a na- tionally representative sample of 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds indicate that 95% were spanked by parents during the preced- ing 12 months (Straus, 1983); Sears, Maccoby and Levin (1957) found that 99% of parents had spanked 5-year-old children at least once. Additional studies support these prevalence rates (Clausen, 1966; Frude & Gross, 1979; Newson & Newson, 1963). More recent studies of high school to college age students indi- cate that 80% to 95% can remember being spanked at some point (Bryan & Freed, 1982; Deley, 1988; Graziano & Namaste, 1990).
Research on chronicity (i.e., among those spanked, how often the spanking
occurs) is much less common than re- search on prevalence, and also poses measurement problems because parents may not be able to remember how many times they spanked a child over a month or year. For most parents and children, spanking and slapping are mundane and taken-for-granted events and many or most instances are likely to be forgotten even after short lapses of time. Studies that ask respondents about spanking fre- quency over relatively lengthy periods, such as a month or a year, underesti- mate true rates (e.g., Straus, 1991, 1994). In fact, Goodenough (1931/1975) noted that the frequency of spanking as recalled during an interview was six times lower than the frequency as recorded in a parenting diary. Straus (1994) assumed that the interviewed parents could remember only a small fraction of the actual number of times they had hit their children in the past year, and argued that many preschoolers are hit almost daily.
A diary method such as The Disci- pline Record (Larzelere, Schneider, & Rose, 1988) probably provides the most complete data, but is usually applicable only to relatively small volunteer sam- ples. In research on frequently occur- ring behaviors (e.g., spanking as punish- ment) with large probability samples, a shorter recall period (e.g., one day or one week) is preferable to a longer refer-
*This article is part of a research program on corporal punishment at the Family Research Laboratory, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824. A program descrip- tion and publication list will be sent on request. The work has been supported by grants from several organizations, in- cluding National Institute of Mental Health grants (ROIMH40027 and T32MH15161) and the University of New Hampshire.
**Jean Giles-Sims is a Professor of Sociology at Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX 76129. Murray A. Straus is Co-Director of the Family Research Laboratory at the Uni- versity of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824. David B. Sugarman is a Professor of Psychology at Rhode Island Col- lege, Providence, RI 02908.
Key Words: children, corporal punishment, family vio- lence, parenting, spanking.
(Family Relations, 1995, 44, 170-176.)
170 FAMILY April 1995 RELAON
ent period (e.g., one month or one year).
Data obtained by asking adults about spanking they had experienced as children are even more likely to under- estimate chronicity of spanking because of the too lengthy and removed recall periods and selective memory. In adult recall studies, it is almost certain that many spanking instances were forgotten (Straus & Donnelly, 1993).
In view of these problems, it is usu- ally desirable to measure spanking in ref- erence to an immediately preceding and short reference period. This article pre- sents data on the prevalence of spanking in the past week for preschool and school age groups, and also, for the preschool children, prevalence during a one-hour home observation. However, prevalence in the past week has some limitations as the basis for estimates of total spanking frequency. Children not spanked in the past week, but spanked in other weeks, are not included in weekly prevalence rates.
Age and Sex of Child Age of the child. As previously
noted, the classic study of American childrearing by Sears, Maccoby, and Levin (1957) found that almost all par- ents of preschool age children (99%) spanked them. Surprisingly few studies have made systematic age comparisons, but those that have done so show a de- crease in spanking as children age from the peak of over 90% at ages 2 to 4 (Straus, 1991; Wauchope & Straus, 1990). However, the rate of decrease is slow. Two studies show that over half of American children ages 13 and 14 are still being spanked (Bachman, 1967; Straus & Donnelly, 1993). This study compares spanking as punishment by mothers of children in four age groups: 0 to 2 years, 3 to 5 years, 6 to 9 years, and 10 years and older.
Sex of the child. Although boys are spanked more than girls, the difference is small (Graziano & Namaste, 1990; Straus, 1994; Straus & Gelles, 1990). Fur- ther research is needed to determine if the small difference between the rate for boys and girls occurs across age and so- cioeconomic status groups.
Maternal Characteristics Age of the mother. Straus (1994)
found that older parents spank much less often than younger parents, even after controlling for age of the child. The sample in the present study includes 25- to 33-year-old mothers, excluding moth- ers under 25 who, research suggests, are most likely to use spanking. Age differ-
ences are likely to occur even within this restricted age range.
Marital status. Research focused on rates of severe violence toward children (physical abuse) by marital status has found higher rates among single parents and stepparents (Bolton & MacEachron, 1986; Giles-Sims & Finkelhor, 1984; Kalmuss & Seltzer, 1989; Kimball, Stew- art, Conger, & Burgess, 1980). Explana- tions of an association between single parenting and violence emphasize the socioeconomic consequences of divorce for women, and lack of social support (Kalmuss & Seltzer, 1989). These theo- retical and empirical explanations sug- gest that single parents, and perhaps stepparents, use spanking as punish- ment more often than married parents, but no direct empirical support links spanking to marital status. The analyses reported here test for differences in spanking of married versus unmarried mothers, controlling for socioeconomic status (SES) effects, but the data pre- clude analyses for stepparents because mothers were interviewed about their biological children only.
Educational level. There is a ten- dency for the physical abuse of children to decrease as educational levels in- crease (Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980), but the relationship between ed- ucation and spanking is unclear.
Family Characteristics Theoretical explanations of family
violence often focus on social-structural characteristics as antecedents or corre- lates of violent attitudes and behaviors. Socio-cultural groups may vary in disci- plinary norms and in stress levels associ- ated with their position, socioeconomic opportunities, and with levels of parental responsibility and support. Re- search on the social group correlates of spanking has produced some conflicting findings. More research is needed on how social group characteristics relate to spanking.
Socioeconomic status (SES). Re- search on the physical abuse of children finds higher rates among lower income parents (Gelles, 1978; Gil, 1970; Parke & Collmer, 1975; Straus, Gelles, & Stein- metz, 1980). However, most studies of legally permissible violence (i.e., spank- ing) have found few or no income relat- ed differences (Erlanger, 1974a, 1974b; Straus, 1994). Nevertheless, there is enough evidence suggesting a relation- ship (Straus & Camacho, 1993) to war- rant further research and also to control for SES when investigating other social characteristics such as ethnicity.
Other variables related to income explored in this research include pover- ty status, Aid to Families with Depen- dent Children (AFDC) participation, and number of weeks employed/unem- ployed in the past year. We interpret these factors as indicators of stress, rather than inherent characteristics. Since previous research has found that stress is linked to physical abuse of chil- dren (Justice & Justice, 1976; Straus & Kaufman Kantor, 1987), it is plausible that these stressful conditions are also associated with an increased use of spanking.
Racial/ethnic group. Research on differences between racial/ethnic groups in rates of spanking has yielded contradictory findings. Some studies find European American parents more likely to spank than African Americans (Cazenave & Straus, 1990; Straus, 1994) and others find no differences (Stark & McEvoy, 1970). Straus and Camacho (1993) report lower prevalence and chronicity rates for spanking among His- panic than among Anglo parents. The present data permit us to expand the range of ethnic groups to include African Americans, European Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and others.
Religion. Although Greven (1991) and Elison and Sherkat (1993) found that Fundamentalist Protestants strongly be- lieve in spanking their children, they did not differentiate between other religious groups such as other Protestants, Catholics and those with no religious preference. Research on religious groups also has not compared data on rates of spanking. The data here on reli- gion permit us to compare four groups: Protestants, Catholics, those with no re- ligious preference, and others.
Community type. Community type in these analyses compares rural and urban community rates of spanking. Press coverage and media presentations lead people to link urban and violence almost automatically, but rural areas also have characteristics of family isolation and lower access to parental education, which may lead to higher rates of spank- ing in rural areas. Analyzing rates of fam- ily violence in cities and in the country, Straus et al. (1980) found that large cities had higher rates of families with physical abuse of children; however, we do not know if a similar pattern exists for spanking.
Geographic region. Flynn (1993) found that respondents in the South had more favorable attitudes toward spank- ing than those in the other regions, but the majority of respondents in all four
April 1995 FAMILY 171
regions favored corporal punishment. After controlling for several relevant so- ciodemographic variables, Flynn identi- fied the Northeast as the region with the least favorable attitudes towards spank- ing. These differences in attitudes may not lead to differences in actual use of spanking. Many parents who do not sup- port spanking in principle may use it in practice. In addition, Straus et al. (1980) found that the South was not the region with the highest rates of physical abuse of children. The present study con- tributes a missing piece of the needed information by providing data on the prevalence and chronicity of spanking in all regions.
Sample Data for this article are from the
1990 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) conducted at the Ohio State University Center for Human Re- source Research. (See Baker, Keck, Mott, and Quinlan, 1993, for a complete description of sampling procedures and sample characteristics.) These data are part of a longitudinal program of re- search. Women aged 14 to 21 were origi- nally interviewed in 1979. In 1990, those women were between 25 and 33 years old. By 1986, 7,725 women had had children, and their 8,513 children were added to the ongoing longitudinal research. The numbers of mothers and children in each analysis depend on age and group characteristics as well as the availability of data.
Measures Spanking. The spanking data are
from the age-specific forms of the Home Observation for Measurement of the En- vironment (HOME) scales (Caldwell & Bradley, 1984). The first prevalence vari- able, available only for preschool chil- dren, ages 0 to 2 years and 3 to 5 years, is whether the interviewer observed the mother spank her child during the hour- long HOME interview. The HOME inter- view also includes questions asking mothers whether and how often they spanked their children as discipline for not minding. The NLSY data offer no in- formation on spanking by fathers or other caretakers.
Prevalence and chronicity mea- sures, available for ages 3 to 5, 6 to 9, and over 10, were derived from the fol- lowing question: "Sometimes kids mind pretty well and sometimes they don't. About how many times, if any, have you had to spank your child in the past week?" Prevalence rates report the per-
centage of mothers who used spanking in the past week. Chronicity indicates the number of times the mothers who spanked did so in the past week. Be- cause the distribution of these responses was positively skewed, treating chronici- ty as a continuous variable would have resulted in outliers. Consequently, chronicity was recoded using the follow- ing categories: 1, 2, 3, 4-5, 6-9, 10-14 and 15+ times spanked in the past week.
SES index. The measure of SES com- bines three indicators: (a) occupational status of the mother's most recent job in 1990, (b) total net family income, and (c) highest grade completed by the mother. The decision was made to use the 1970 U.S. Census classification cate- gories for the occupational status vari- able in the combined index. The 1970 categories were judged to have more face validity as an ordinal variable than the categories used for the 1980 Census. That judgment was supported by our finding a higher correlation between oc- cupational status and both income and education using the 1970 categories than using the 1980 categories.
To create the SES measure, the three indicators were factor analyzed. To reduce the number of cases lost be- cause of missing data on one of the indi- cators, a predicted score was substituted when an indicator was missing. Each SES indicator was regressed against the other two to derive a regression equa- tion, which was then used to generate a predicted score for missing data on an individual indicator. If values for two in- dicators were missing, the case was treated as missing. Factor analyses of the combined SES variable with substitu- tions for missing values exhibited a simi- lar factor structure to the original analy- ses with a listwise deletion. To control for outliers that might affect subsequent analyses, the SES index was transformed to a normalized stanine score.
Other social characteristics. The NLSY data included indicators for each of the child, maternal, and family charac- teristics listed in the introduction.
Statistical Analyses and Weighing
The analyses of relationships be- tween spanking and the maternal and family characteristics are for children aged 3 to 5 years. This age group was se- lected for more in-depth analyses be- cause preschoolers are those most likely to be spanked (Straus, 1983, 1991).
Multivariate analyses of covariance (MANCOVA) and ANCOVA tested for group differences in prevalence (per- centage using spanking), and chronicity
(times per week of spanking) control- ling for the effect of SES. SES was not used as a covariate with income related variables because of conceptual and sta- tistical redundancy.
The descriptive statistics in Tables 1 and 2 on prevalence and chronicity by age of child used NLSY weights to trans- form the data to represent a national sample of U.S. mothers aged 25 to 33 years. These weights corrected for over- representation of low income respon- dents and minorities. The data in these tables provide the basis for making na- tional estimates of prevalence and chronicity by age groups. Further analy- ses in Tables 3 and 4 used unweighted data because weighing is not needed to establish relationships between vari- ables, and because the type of weighting used to adjust disproportionate samples is not appropriate for multivariate analy- ses (Rogers, 1993).
Prevalence and Chronicity by Age of Child
Table 1 shows that approximately 5% of the mothers of preschool children spanked them while the HOME inter- view was taking place (about one hour). The unweighted percentages are actual- ly about 25% higher (61/4%). In this case, weighing for national estimates reduced the estimated prevalence.
Table 1 also shows that well over half (61%) of mothers of 3- to 5-year-old children spanked them in the past week, with a mean of about three times that week. For 6- to 9-year-olds, the one- week prevalence rate declines by almost half to just over a third, with a mean of about two spankings that week. Spank- ing rates drop again, to 16%, for children over 10 with spanking occurring a mean of 2.4 times. Table 2 indicates that among those who were spanked, chron- icity of more than once that week de- creases after the preschool period (3-5 years old). However, chronicity does not change very much after this age period. Those who spank children are spanking older children as frequently as younger children.
The correlations between SES and the prevalence and chronicity of spank- ing (not included in tables) indicate sig- nificant relationships between SES and spanking rates. As SES increases, the prevalence of spanking goes down slightly (rf 1312] = -.09, p < .001). Among those who spank, chronicity also decreases as SES increases (r4827] =
172 FAMILY April 1995 r,A RElAlONS
Table 1 Prevalence and Mean Frequency of Maternal Spanking by Age of Child, 1990 (Weighted)
Prevalence of Spanking Mean Frequency of Spanking
Age of Child During Interview In Past Week in Past Week
0-2 5.4% na na 3-5 4.9% 60.7% 3.1 6-9 na 36.5% 2.1 10+ na 16.3% 2.4
Note. na = Data not available for children in this age group.
Table 2 Chronicity of Maternal Spanking in Past Week, 1990 (Weighted)
Age of Child
3-5 6-9 10+ Chronicitya Years Years Years
Once per week 33.1% 54.0% 56.7% Twice per week 24.0% 21.0% 21.5% 3 times per week 17.4% 9.9% 6.0% 4-5 timesperweek 14.3% 11.1% 10.9% 6-9 times per week 6.5% 3.0% 2.5% 10-14 times per week 3.1% 1.1% 2.0% 15+ times per week 1.5% 0.0% 0.4%
aChronicity measures the frequency of spanking among only those children who have been spanked during the referent week.
Education, Employment, and Poverty Status
The percentages under the preva- lence column in Table 3 show that the rate of spanking for 3- to 5-year-olds is higher for children living in poverty, re- ceiving AFDC, or whose mothers were not employed at least 40 weeks in the year. Most of these findings replicate findings from research on physical abuse of children, but contrary to research on physical abuse, increases in the educa- tion of the mother are not associated with lower rates of spanking.
The chronicity column in Table 3 shows only one significant difference: Of those mothers who spanked, those receiving AFDC did so more often than those not receiving AFDC.
The Relation Between Child, Maternal, and Family Characteristics and Prevalence and Chronicity of Spanking
Table 4 indicates that prevalence and chronicity rates of spanking 3- to 5- year-old children vary by several child, maternal, and family characteristics after controlling for SES.
Sex of child. A larger percentage of preschool sons were spanked than were daughters. However, of those preschool- ers who were spanked, no significant sex differences existed in frequency per week.
Age of mother. Even within the re- stricted age range of 25 to 34, older moth- ers (30-34) were less likely to spank their children than younger ones. Chronicity did not differ by age of mother.
Marital status. The percentage of unmarried mothers who spank did not differ from married mothers after con- trols for SES, but they showed a different pattern. Unmarried mothers who did spank reported a much higher mean fre- quency of spanking in the past week than did those who were married. Analy- ses such as these, which control for SES, essentially ask: "If single mothers had the same SES as married mothers, how would they compare in rates of spank- ing?" In the real world, married and un- married mothers differ in financial status and in stress associated with money, par- enting, and other issues. Therefore, it is also appropriate to examine the relation- ship between marital status and spank- ing without removing the variance of SES.
Without controls for SES, fewer married mothers spanked their children in the previous week than did unmar- ried mothers (60.8% and 67.1% respec- tively, F[ 1, 1385] = 5.10, p = .024). Simi- larly, removing controls for SES, married mothers who spanked did so a mean of 2.8 times per week compared to 3.7 times for unmarried mothers (F[1, 870] = 16.18, p < .001). Comparison of analy- ses with and without SES as a covariate suggest that, although lower SES increas- es the chance of spanking at all, being
Table 3 Maternal Spanking in Past Week of 3- to 5-Year-Old Children, by Income Related Variables, 1990
Prevalence Chronicity (Among those Spanked)
Characteristics % Spanked Total N Mean SD N Spanked
Education of Mother I Iyears or less 62.3 229 3.48 3.72 134 12 years 64.4 679 3.09 3.07 418 13 or more 64.6 467 3.18 2.92 268 ANOVA F=.11 F= .71
Poverty Status No 60.7 885 3.04 3.06 537 Yes 70.1 311 3.30 2.95 218 ANOVA F = 8.82** F= 1.15
AFDC Recipient No 61.6 1,159 2.98 2.83 709 Yes 70.7 225 4.12 4.34 160 ANOVA F = 8.00** F = 17.30***
Number of Weeks Worked 0 62.9b 450 3.26 3.24 283 1-20 76.5a 149 3.17 2.90 114 21-40 64.3b 182 3.49 3.81 117 40+ 59.lb 606 3.01 3.01 358 ANOVA F= 5.30*** F= .79
Number of Weeks Unemployed 0 62.1 1,093 3.21 3.22 679 1-10 63.4 131 3.07 2.82 83 11-25 64.8 54 3.46 3.60 35 26+ 80.6 36 2.76 2.26 29 ANOVA F= 1.73 F=.31
Note. Prevalence is the percentage of mothers who reported spanking their children during the last week, and chronicity refers to the frequency of maternal spanking among only those moth- ers who reported that they spanked their children in the referent week. abMeans with different superscripts are significantly different from each other at the .05 level (two-tailed test) using an unprotected t test of the difference between means. *p<.05. **p<.01. ***p<.001.
rt Aprl 1995
Table 4 Matenal Spanking in Past Week of 3- to 5-Year-Old Children, by Child, Maternal, and Family Characteristics (Controllingfor SES), 1990
Prevalence Chronicity (Among those Spanked)
Characteristics % Spanked Total N Mean SD N Spanked
Sex of Child Male 67.4 673 3.31 3.28 454 Female 58.4 639 2.96 2.99 373 ANCOVA F= 11.43*** F= 2.56
Age of Mother 25-29 66.7 605 3.03 2.92 408 30-34 60.5 673 3.30 3.42 402 ANCOVA F= 5.06* F= 1.39
Marital Status Married 62.8 940 2.87 2.57 542 Not married 65.2 447 3,74 3.97 285 ANCOVA F=.67 F= 12.88***
Race Black 69.4a 392 3.43 3.44 264 White 59.5b 644 2.97 2.97 363 Hispanic 6i.8, 272 3.02 2.84 152 American Indian 68.7ab 43 3.96 4.18 30 Other 54.1ab 29 2.62 2.85 15 ANCOVA F= 2.83* F= 1.43
Religion None 63.3ab 52 3.61 4.14 33 Protestant 67.8b 675 3.28 3.14 442 Catholic 55.la 514 2.84 2.75 254 Other 71.3b 145 3.60 3.74 96 ANCOVA F = 7.79*** F = 1.86
Community Type Rural 68.9 292 2.88 2.75 197 Urban 61.6 1,060 3.23 3.22 612 ANCOVA F= 5.08* F= 1.87
Region Northeast 57.5b 195 2.98 2.94 101 North Central 58.91 344 2.96 2.82 196 South 71.6a 533 3.14 3.01 364 West 56.4b 294 3.34 3.70 159 ANCOVA F = 8.85*** F= .50
Note. All means are adjusted for SES. Prevalence is the percentage of mothers who reported spanking their children during the last week, and chronicity refers to the frequency of maternal spanking among only those mothers who reported that they spanked their children in the refer- ent week. a,bMeans with different superscripts are significantly different from each other at the .05 level (two-tailed test) using an unprotected t test of the difference between means. *p<.05. **p<.01. ***p<.001.
an unmarried mother has more impact on the frequency with which spanking occurs.
Racial/ethnic group. Comparisons of mothers of 3- to 5-year-olds indicate that racial and ethnic groups differ in the use of spanking. Post hoc t tests comparing each pair of statistical means indicate that a higher percentage of African American mothers spank their children than do mothers in other racial/ethnic groups. The category of Other includes a small number of Asians and those who self-identified as Other. African American mothers had the high- est chronicity rates, but the differences from other racial/ethnic groups are not statistically significant. Without controls for SES, African American mothers' prevalence rates are again higher than other racial/ethnic groups (F[4, 13751 = 4.04, p = .003) and chronicity rates again do not differ. Thus, both SES and
racial/ethnic status contribute to differ- ences in prevalence rates of spanking children.
Religion. Religious groups also dif- fer in the use of spanking. Post hoc t tests comparing pairs of means indicate that Catholics differ from all other groups by their lower use of spanking. Protestants and those with other reli- gious preferences more commonly spank their children, but, for those who spank, no significant differences exist in the mean number of times spanked per week. The same pattern of lower rates of spanking by Catholics was found when SES is not controlled.
Community type and region. More rural mothers reported spanking than did urban mothers. Chronicity rates did not differ significantly. With respect to region, post hoc tests indicate that prevalence rates of spanking are much higher in the South than in other re-
gions, but chronicity comparisons show no significant differences.
Overall, the present analyses of the NLSY data found very high prevalence and chronicity rates of spanking. Al- though this data set enhances the chances of accurate recall because of the short and immediately preceding re- porting period, several limitations may still contribute to the underestimation of true spanking rates and a lack of under- standing of all aspects of parental spank- ing. First, some children not spanked in the past week may have been spanked during other weeks of the year. This fac- tor reduces total prevalence estimates within these analyses. The 61% preva- lence rate in this study compares to 90 to 99% prevalence rates reported for toddlers and pre-schoolers in previous studies that used longer referent periods (Sears, et al., 1957; Straus, 1983). Sec- ond, underestimation may be due to the taken-for-granted nature of spanking and to the lack of a clear definition of spank- ing behavior. For example, a "quick swat on the butt," when sending a reluc- tant child to bed may not even be thought of as a spanking by many par- ents and consequently may not have been reported. Third, the mothers in the NLSY sample, being older than other maternal samples, underrepresented younger mothers who use spanking as a disciplinary technique more frequently (Straus, 1994). Fourth, these estimates report only mothers' behaviors and do not assess the spanking of other care- givers. Finally, these analyses based on the NLSY data neglect important dimen- sions of spanking. For example, to fully describe spanking behaviors requires in- formation about the spanking's severity (i.e., how hard the child was spanked) and its impulsivity (i.e., whether the spanking was administered while the parent was emotionally out-of-control or not).
To compare NLSY chronicity data to estimates based on other time periods, one could multiply the one week data by 52 to compare to yearly data. This product suggests that 3- to 5-year-old children are spanked a mean of more than 150 times a year. That estimate is about 10 times greater than the chronici- ty estimate obtained by Straus on the basis of asking mothers how many times the child was spanked in the past year. Straus (1994) argues that yearly figures vastly underestimate true rates, which probably lie closer to the NLSY esti- mates.
174 FAMILY April 1995 FREATION
In addition to examining the issue of overall prevalence and chronicity of spanking, the present study investigated between-group differences in spanking. Consistent with other research (Straus, 1991), toddler and pre-school children were spanked more than older children and boys were spanked more than girls. Gender role expectations likely con- tribute heavily to this sex difference. For example, parents believe male children are more aggressive and require greater physical discipline. Paradoxically, par- ents' spanking also teaches boys to be more aggressive, thus reinforcing the traditional gender norms.
A number of maternal and family characteristics were related to patterns of maternal spanking. Mothers of lower age, lower income, lower overall socioe- conomic status, and those who were employed less frequently reported high- er prevalence and/or chronicity rates. Outside employment may increase finan- cial stability for the family and reduce a child's risk of spanking from the mother. In contrast to previous research on phys- ical abuse (Straus, et al., 1980), unem- ployment is not related in these data to either prevalence or chronicity of spank- ing. Most previous research focused on the unemployment of fathers; the mean- ing of mothers' unemployment may dif- fer from fathers', and may include less degradation and loss of self-esteem.
Being an unmarried mother, living in an urban community, living in the South, and being an African American were also associated with more spank- ing. The finding for African Americans is inconsistent with previous work by Cazenave and Straus (1990), Stark and McEvoy (1970), and Straus (1994).
Overall, these findings support a stress theory (justice & Justice, 1976; Straus & Kaufman Kantor, 1987; Turner, in press). Being poor, African American, and/or an unmarried mother all bring added stress to the parenting experience because of discrimination and restricted economic opportunity. In addition to stress associated with low income, a greater chance of an authoritarian par- enting style in low SES groups (Kohn, 1977) may explain some of the differ- ences in spanking. Despite the signifi- cant difference in SES groups, a high percentage of mothers in all SES levels reported spanking their children, and the combined SES variable only accounts for a small percentage of the variance in spanking rates. Although some differ- ences in rates of spanking remain after controlling for SES, in reality, SES and these group characteristics are not sepa- rate.
Higher rates for Southerners and rural mothers and lower rates for Catholics suggest that cultural and sub- cultural norms influence patterns of spanking net of the differences based on SES. These mothers may also differ in re- sources and support for parenting. For example, children may spend more time with parents in rural communities, and urban mothers may be influenced by more current parenting information sug- gesting that there are alternatives to spanking.
No single factor will explain even a majority of the variation in rates of spanking, but each piece of the puzzle contributes to our understanding. A se- ries of factors may add up to a more thorough understanding. More research is needed to explain the spanking differ- ences found by child, maternal, and fam- ily characteristics. In addition, research is needed on the exact meanings parents attach to spanking, on the severity and impulsiveness of spanking, on spanking by fathers and other caregivers, on spanking across the full range of family types and household composition, and on spanking rates across a greater range of individual and social variables.
* :e m rsu I -
g u a rp.I w ec) The extremely high prevalence and
chronicity of spanking found by this re- search suggest a serious threat to the well-being of American children. Re- search consistently indicates that spank- ing harms children by increasing the chances of physical aggression (Kandel, 1991; Straus, 1991) and delinquency (Straus, 1991). In addition, even after controlling for SES and a number of other potential confounds, spanking has been found to be associated with social and psychological problems of adults, such as depression (Straus, in press), wife beating (Straus, 1991, 1994), and reduced occupational achievement (Straus & Gimpel, 1992; Straus, 1994).
On the basis of the accumulating re- search on the negative side effects of spanking, we recommend replacing spanking in the parenting discipline repertoire with less harmful, but equally or more effective, disciplinary proce- dures. To do so requires several major changes in parenting norms and behav- iors.
First, we suggest reevaluating norms that support using physical force on children. Currently, the majority of par- ents from all segments of society, profes- sionals, and policy makers favor spank- ing as an appropriate disciplinary tech- nique (Anderson & Anderson, 1976; Ray- Keil, 1988; West, 1994; White, 1993).
Researchers and family life educators must educate individuals about the nega- tive side effects of spanking and must also provide training in effective alterna- tives to spanking.
Second, the term spanking itself re- quires reexamination. For policy and re- search our terminology must be clari- fied. One alternative is to more clearly assess how parents and others define spanking and then to maintain consis- tent definitions. This task presents two problems. First, the term spanking is al- ready used in both a specific and a generic way, causing confusion. Second, spanking carries a strong legitimization that would be hard to eliminate even in the face of evidence of the negative con- sequences. Thus, future work in the area would benefit by using a more specific, less legitimating term. We suggest using the term corporal punishment, defined as follows:
The use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to expe- rience pain, but not injury, for the purpose of correction or control of the child's behavior.
This terminology is more specific, less legitimizing, and indicates all physical force used on the child's body to cause pain.
Third, we recommend parenting ed- ucation on alternative disciplinary strate- gies. These programs could be directed to: (a) all parents, (b) professionals and opinion leaders expected to reeducate parents, and/or (c) specific target groups at high risk of spanking. As we expected, certain groups (i.e., low in- come, unmarried, rural, and Southern mothers) have higher spanking rates than do others. Although these group differences are statistically significant, the differences pale in comparison to the high overall prevalence and chronic- ity of spanking by almost all parents. In 35 subgroups of mothers broken down by child, maternal, and family character- istics, a clear majority of the mothers spanked their children during the past week. Moreover, in every group, moth- ers who spanked averaged doing so more than twice a week. Thus, although we found that the rates are higher for some groups, spanking is so common in all social groups that its reduction or elimination will require change by most parents. We suggest that family life edu- cators follow any or all of these recom- mended educational strategies.
This research also indicated a signif- icant relationship between spanking and access to and control of socio-economic resources. Some of this association is likely due to differences in educational
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experience and parenting norms, but the stress of low incomes and lack of re- sources to meet the needs of a family also influence spanking directly. Thus, attempts to eliminate family violence, in- cluding spanking, require changes in the basic socioeconomic conditions of soci- ety. If societal norms change to reduce spanking of children, and if the stress of low socioeconomic resources decrease, these group differences might decrease or disappear.
Finally, we recommend that elimi- nating spanking become a public health agenda. The combination of the preva- lence and chronicity of spanking report- ed in this study and the research on its harmful side effects suggests that reduc- ing spanking can be a useful component of primary prevention strategies to re- duce overall violence, delinquency, wife beating, depression, suicide, alienation, and other mental and physical health problems.
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An error occurred in the printing of "Parent Education Outcomes: Insights Into Transformative Learning" by Joy A. First and Wendy L. Way in the January 1995 issue of Family Relations. Pages 106 and 107 were reversed. The text on page 107 should appear before the text on page 106. Corrected reprints are available from the authors. We regret the error.
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