Attitudes Toward Spanking

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In 2014, according to a nationally representative survey, 76 percent of men, and 65 percent of women, 18 to 65 years old, agreed that a child sometimes needs a “good hard spanking.” This proportion has declined modestly since 1986 among women, while approval among males, after declining into the early 1990s, has remained steady.

Importance

One of the most frequently used strategies to discipline a child, especially a younger child, is spanking.[1] About 94 percent of parents of children ages three to four in the United States report having spanked their children in the previous year.[2]

However, use of corporal punishment is linked to negative outcomes for children (e.g., delinquency, antisocial behavior, psychological problems, and alcohol and drug abuse), and may be indicative of ineffective parenting.[3],[4],[5] Research also finds that the number of problem behaviors observed in adolescence is related to the amount of spanking a child receives. The greater the age of the child, the stronger the relationship.[6]

Positive child outcomes are more likely when parents refrain from using spanking and other physical punishment, and instead discipline their children through communication that is firm, reasoned, and nurturing.[7] Studies find this type of discipline can foster positive psychological outcomes, such as high self-esteem and cooperation with others, as well as improved achievement in school.[8]

The type of discipline parents employ is often influenced by both the age and the reasoning ability of the child.[9] For example, a younger child may be less able to respond to rational verbal discipline; an alternative strategy might be to redirect the child’s attention.[10] In contrast, older children may respond more readily to reasoned communication that is both firm and nurturing.

Trends

51_fig1Between 1986 and 2014, the proportion of women who agreed or strongly agreed that it is sometimes necessary to give a child a “good, hard spanking” dropped by 22 percent (from 82 to 65 percent). While approval among men dropped seven percent between 1986 and 1991 (from 84 to 78 percent), it has since remained steady, and was at 76 percent in 2014. (Figure 1)

Differences by Gender

In 2014, men were significantly more likely than women to agree or strongly agree that it is sometimes necessary to give a child a “good, hard spanking” (76 and 65 percent, respectively).  (Figure 1)

 

Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin

51_fig2Typically, black and Hispanic women are more likely than are white women to agree or strongly agree that “a good hard spanking” is sometimes necessary. However, in 2014, 81 percent of black women, compared with 62 percent, each, of Hispanic and white women, respectively agreed that a child sometimes needs a “good hard spanking.” There were no significant differences by race or ethnicity among males. (Figure 2) Asian women were the least likely to agree—an average of 56 percent between 2006 and 2014.[11]

 

Differences by Educational Attainment

51_fig3In 2014, college-educated women and men were less likely to endorse spanking than their counterparts with less education.  (Figure 3)

 

 

Differences by Age

There are no significant differences by age-group in the proportion of men or women who agree or strongly agree that spanking a child is sometimes necessary. (Appendix 1 and Appendix 2)

State and Local Estimates

None available. In all states, corporal punishment in the child’s home is lawful. The majority of states prohibit corporal punishment in child care settings. Corporal punishment is unlawful in public schools in 31 states and the District of Columbia; and, in 19 states in both public and private schools.[12]

International Estimates

None available. In 46 countries, corporal punishment of children, including at home, is legally prohibited.[13]

National Goals

None.

What Works to Make Progress on the Indicator

See Child Trends’ LINKS database (“Lifecourse Interventions to Nurture Kids Successfully”) for reviews of many rigorously evaluated programs, including the following which have been shown to be effective for training parents in positive, non-violent parenting:

Related Indicators

Definition

Adults in the General Social Survey were asked to report whether they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree “that it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good hard spanking.”

Data Sources

Raw Data Source

General Social Survey

http://www.norc.org/GSS+Website/

Appendix 1 - Percent of Males Ages 18 to 65 Who Either Agree or Strongly Agree that it is Sometimes Necessary to Discipline a Child with a "Good, Hard Spanking," Selected Years: 1986 -2014

1986 1988 1989 1990 1991 1993 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014
Total 84 81 83 82 78 73 78 73 77 79 75 77 76 77 75 77 76
Race and Hispanic Origin1
White non-Hispanic 84 80 83 82 75 73 76 73 75 79 74 77 74 77 77 78 76
Black non-Hispanic 80 93 80 93 91 80 90 82 90 87 80 87 90 92 82 90 80
Hispanic 80 - - - - - 79 55 75 69 82 77 76 67 62 72 73
Poverty Status
Poor 84 76 80 79 80 69 - - - - - - - - - - -
Non-poor 83 81 82 82 78 74 - - - - - - - - - - -
Marital Status
Currently married 86 86 82 82 82 74 78 75 78 78 76 76 77 79 78 80 75
Not currently married 81 77 83 82 74 72 78 72 76 79 73 78 75 75 71 75 78
Parental Status
Parent 82 84 82 84 83 76 80 74 78 79 76 78 78 80 75 78 76
Non-parent 87 77 83 80 70 69 76 71 75 79 74 75 72 71 75 76 77
1986 1988 1989 1990 1991 1993 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014
Age of Respondent
18 to 24 years old 83 71 85 76 73 67 58 69 79 79 68 78 79 68 69 81 85
25 to 44 years old 84 81 81 81 75 74 79 73 76 76 78 75 75 78 79 77 77
45 to 65 years old 83 84 83 86 82 73 81 74 77 81 75 78 76 79 74 76 74
Educational Attainment
Less than high school 83 85 80 87 80 74 78 77 85 87 81 72 78 81 63 76 81
High school diploma or GED 84 82 85 86 79 76 81 75 79 84 79 80 84 81 85 83 87
Vocational/technical or some college 78 88 - 81 81 82 86 72 75 81 77 72 73 79 78 79 77
College graduate 83 76 78 74 70 66 72 68 69 66 67 78 70 66 71 70 64
Employment Status
Not in labor force 86 81 83 82 82 75 76 73 77 77 77 80 67 77 77 77 79
Looking for work 72 72 76 72 58 66 73 67 71 85 84 69 90 80 77 58 85
Less than 35 hours per week - - - - - 74 95 76 71 73 61 71 67 57 76 82 70
35 hours or more per week 81 82 84 86 75 71 83 76 77 84 76 78 78 79 74 79 76
Note: Scores based on two categories: Strongly Agree or Agree."-" data not available. 1 Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race. Source: Data for 1986-2000 was reproduced from Child Trends. 2002. Charting Parenthood: A Statistical Portrait of Fathers and Mothers in America. Washington, DC: Child Trends. P5.1. Data for 2002 -2014 are a product of Child Trends' original analysis of the General Social Survey , 2002-2014.

 

Appendix 2 - Percent of Females Ages 18 to 65 Who Either Agree or Strongly Agree that it is Sometimes Necessary to Discipline a Child with a "Good, Hard Spanking," Selected Years: 1986-2014

1986 1988 1989 1990 1991 1993 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014
Total 82 76 75 77 69 72 69 70 69 71 73 69 69 65 64 65 65
Race and Hispanic Origin1
White non-Hispanic 80 74 72 74 64 69 66 67 66 67 74 65 66 63 61 64 62
Black non-Hispanic 92 88 88 93 84 88 87 84 82 84 80 94 84 80 76 74 81
Hispanic 81 77 86 - 83 66 65 67 73 76 56 72 65 61 67 76 62
Poverty Status
Poor 87 77 81 81 77 76 - - - - - - - - - - -
Non-poor 81 76 73 76 65 70 - - - - - - - - - - -
Marital Status -
Currently married 82 77 71 74 72 72 68 70 71 70 71 68 67 62 61 66 62
Not currently married 82 76 77 78 67 71 69 71 67 72 75 70 71 69 68 64 68
Parental Status
Parent 84 77 76 77 71 73 70 71 70 73 73 71 69 65 63 66 62
Non-parent 75 73 71 75 61 68 65 68 65 64 73 63 70 66 67 64 74
1986 1988 1989 1990 1991 1993 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014
Age of Respondent
18 to 24 years old 86 75 68 70 72 72 65 60 71 67 85 79 70 68 68 55 68
25 to 44 years old 81 76 73 78 69 72 69 70 67 73 72 72 71 66 64 71 68
45 to 65 years old 82 77 77 77 68 72 69 72 70 70 69 61 67 63 63 64 66
Educational Attainment
Less than high school 86 85 80 84 80 83 77 82 77 80 78 63 75 72 67 80 61
High school diploma or GED 81 77 76 77 69 71 73 71 69 74 72 74.3 73 70 71.8 66 67
Vocational/technical or some college - 68 69 73 69 70 69 71 73 70 80 70 74 68 62 61 72
College graduate 76 61 63 69 53 63 54 58 61 55 63 63 53 53 56 63 57
Employment Status
Not in labor force 81 79 75 81 68 68 70 70 67 72 77 67 69 66 58 60 59
Looking for work 89 71 67 68 66 65 55 66 59 67 62 61 73 74 69 72 68
Less than 35 hours per week - - - - - - 64 64 - 71 66 58 65 64 61.8 63 65
35 hours or more per week 82 75 76 75 70 75 72 72 73 72 75 76 71 64 69 70 71
Note: Scores based on two categories: Strongly Agree or Agree."-" data not available. 1 Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race. Source: Data for 1986-2000 was reproduced from Child Trends. 2002. Charting Parenthood: A Statistical Portrait of Fathers and Mothers in America. Washington, DC: Child Trends. P5.1. Data for 2002 -2014 are a product of Child Trends' original analysis of the General Social Survey , 2002-2014.

 

Endnotes


[1]Day, R., Peterson, G., & McCracken, C. (1998). Predicting spanking of younger and older children by mothers and fathers. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 79-94.

[2]Straus M.A., and Stewart, .JH. (1999). Corporal punishment by American parents: national data on prevalence, chronicity, severity, and duration, in relation to child and family characteristics. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review,2, 55-70.

[3]McCord, J. (1995). Coercion and punishment in long-term perspectives. New York: Cambridge University Press.

[4]Straus, M.A. (2001). Beating the devil out of them: Corporal punishment in American families and its effects on children(2nd ed.). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

[5]Afifi, T. O., Mota, N. P., Dasiewicz, P., MacMillan, H. L., & Sareen, J. (2012). Physical punishment and mental disorders: Results from a nationally representative U.S. sample. Pediatrics, 130(2), 1-9.

[6]Bradley, Robert H., et al. (2001). The home environments of children in the United States, Part II: Relations with behavioral development through age thirteen. Child Development, 72(6), 1868-1886.

[7]Baumrind, D. (1991). Effective parenting during the early adolescent transition. In P. Cowan & M. Hetherington (Eds.), Family transitions. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

[8]Ibid.

[9]Petersen, G., & Rollins, B. (1987). Parent-child socialization. In M. Sussman and S. Steinmetz (Eds.), Handbook of Marriage and the Family. New York: Plenum.

[10]Child Trends. (2002). Charting Parenthood: A Statistical Portrait of Fathers and Mothers. Washington,D.C.: Child Trends. http://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/ParenthoodRpt2002.pdf

[11]Child Trends’ analysis of the General Social Survey.

[12]Global Initiative to End all Corporal Punishment of Children. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.endcorporalpunishment.org/

[13]Ibid.

 

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2015). Attitudes toward spanking. Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=attitudes-toward-spanking

Last updated: November 2015

 

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