To appear in Murray A. Straus  (in press, 2003)                                                                    CP70

The Primordial Violence:  Corporal Punishment By Parents,

Cognitive Development, And Crime.  Walnut Creek CA: AltaMira Press







            Objective: To test the hypothesis that use of corporal punishment (CP) by parents is associated with a subsequent decrease in academic performance.  Methods:  The frequency of hitting or spanking in the past week was measured for 622 children ages 5 and 6 in 1992.  Academic achievement was measured by the Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT) in 1992 and 1994.  Multiple regression analysis controlled for 1992 PIAT score, child’s level of antisocial behavior, mother’s education, race and gender of child, mother's age at birth of child, father's presence in household, number of children in the household, amount of emotional support and cognitive stimulation the child received.  Results:  Each increase of one unit in the four unit CP scale at Time 1 was associated with an average decrease of 2.7 points in PIAT score at Time 2, net of all other variables.  Conclusions. The finding that CP adversely affects academic achievement is important for children and for the nation because academic achievement is a major determinant of economic and health status and because CP is amenable to change through public health and parent education.


KEY WORDS:  corporal punishment, spanking, cognitive development, parent behavior, academic achievement, antisocial behavior







            Academic performance in the sense of school grades, test scores, or years of education is a major determinant of many other behaviors and conditions that are valued in many societies.  The amount of education completed, for example, is the single most important determinant of occupation and income (National Alliance of Business 1998).   Level of education also affects health status and health-related behaviors such as smoking, dietary habits, seat belt use, and use of preventive health care services (prenatal care, cancer screenings, immunizations for children).  In short, academic achievement affects the probability that children and adolescents will be successful and healthy in adulthood, and that they will raise successful and healthy children.


This paper is focused on the part of academic performance that is measured by standardized tests of "academic achievement."   Performance on these tests is a significant predictor of  later educational performance and attainment (Grundmann 1997).  Research on the etiology of academic performance, including performance on standardized tests, shows that it is correlated with major demographics such as socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, and gender (Guskey 1997).  A second tier of research on the etiology of academic performance has examined characteristics of parent-child interactions such as cognitive stimulation and emotional support (Grundmann 1997).   These studies have generally shown that parent-child interactions are significant determinants of academic achievement and cognitive development regardless of socioeconomic status, race, or gender of children. The purpose of the study reported in this paper is to expand understanding of family environment factors that could affect cognitive functioning and academic performance by considering a pervasive but under-researched aspect of children’s family experiences:  CP by parents.  We will first review research on the prevalence of CP and then review research that provides a basis for hypothesizing a link between mothers' use of CP  (CP) and the academic achievement of their children in early grade school years.




CP is defined here as the use of physical force with the intention of causing physical pain, but not injury, for purposes of correction and control (Straus 2001a).  Examples of CP include slapping, spanking, pinching, or ear twisting.  Parent-to-child CP as defined above is currently legal in all 50 of the United States.  Other forms of CP (e.g., teacher-student, stranger-child) have increasingly been made illegal in recent years.  For example, about half the states now prohibit CP by school personnel, and many states prohibit CP by foster parents (the states are listed in the web site of the Center For Effective Discipline,

Prevalence And Chronicity Of CP


The prevalence and chronicity of CP vary widely by children's age and gender.  National surveys reveal that the current prevalence of spanking toddlers (age 2-4) is over 90% (Straus and Stewart 1999).  For some in this 90%, CP is a rare event, for others it occurs several times a day.  The prevalence of CP remains high at ages 5 and 6, and then declines steadily from ages 7 through 17.  Despite the decline in CP after age 6, almost half (43%) of the parents of 13 year-old children and more than a quarter of parents of 16 year-old children reported having hit them in the previous 12 months(Straus and Stewart 1999).


            Information on chronicity differs from study to study, probably because of differences in the method of obtaining the data.  In interview studies, for example, the longer the time period about which the parent is questioned, the lower the frequency of CP.  The National Family Violence Surveys, for example, asked how many times CP was used in the previous year, which resulted in a mean of 8.9 times by parents of children aged 3 to 17.  However, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth asked the mothers how many times they had spanked in the past week.   Among the 71 percent of mothers of 1-4 year olds who had spanked, the mean number of times that week was 3.6.  This suggests an annual chronicity in the hundreds of times.  In addition, 6.8 percent of the mothers hit the focal child during the course of the interview (Giles-Sims, Straus, and Sugarman 1995).  This suggests an even higher chronicity.  Even a college-educated sample of mothers reported using CP an average of 2.5 times in the past week(Holden, Coleman, and Schmidt 1995).


Demographic Differences In CP


 Research consistently shows that boys are somewhat more likely than girls to be spanked (Giles-Sims, Straus, and Sugarman 1995), especially once they reach school age (Anderson and Anderson 1976; Straus 2001a).  The most common explanation for the higher CP prevalence among young children (particularly boys) is that they "act out" more often than older children. The higher spanking rate among boys might also reflect cultural expectations of the need for "toughness" in preparation for traditional roles of male adults.


The prevalence of CP also varies by race and ethnicity.  African-American parents are more likely to use CP than Euro-American and Hispanic-American parents (Day, Peterson, and McCracken 1998; Giles-Sims, Straus, and Sugarman 1995).   Some researchers have suggested that the higher CP prevalence among  African-Americans is due to cultural differences in beliefs regarding the appropriateness of CP as a form of discipline (Rohner, Bourque, and Elordi 1996).  Others note that racial differences in CP behavior are not as significant when socioeconomic status is taken into account(Cazenave and Straus 1990).


Parents of low SES are also more likely to spank than are their higher SES counterparts (Day, Peterson, and McCracken 1998; Giles-Sims, Straus, and Sugarman 1995).  One recent study shows that the mother’s level of education is strongly related to CP use(Arias and Pape 1999).  It may be that parents with lower educational attainment are less likely to practice “cognitive” means of discipline than are the less educated.




Finally, despite the fact that CP of toddlers still exceeds 90%, spanking rates of older children have declined significantly in recent years.  In addition, the belief that CP is an appropriate means of discipline is decreasing.  The proportion of the US population who believed that CP is sometimes necessary declined from 94% in 1968 to 68% in 1994 (Straus and Mathur 1996), and the decrease is continuing (Straus 2001b).  As with many attitudinal changes of this kind, changes in actual spanking behavior may occur somewhat later in time.  This would portend further decline in the prevalence and chronicity of CP by parents.




Research on the effects of CP has historically focused the association of CP with increased risk of aggression and delinquency, as exemplified in the research of Sears, Maccoby, and Levin (1957), Feshbach (1973) and McCord (1991).  Recently, however, there has been a series of studies showing links to other maladaptive outcomes including depression (DuRant, Getts, Cadenhead, Emans, and Woods 1995; Holmes and Robins 1988; MacMillan, Boyle, Wong, Duku, Fleming, and Walsh 1999; Straus 1994; Straus and Kantor 1991), problem drinking (Straus and Kantor 1994), and engaging in masochistic sex as adults (Huth-Bocks, Levendosky, and Semel 2001; Kinard 1999; Widom 1989a; Widom 1989b).


Physical abuse of children is known to adversely affect cognitive performance (Huth-Bocks, Levendosky, and Semel 2001; Kinard 1999; Widom 1989a; Widom 1989b) It is possible that the less severe hitting of children in the form of CP has a similar adverse effect, although probably less strong.  Three recent papers pertain more directly to the current study.  The first found evidence that CP in early childhood was significantly related to a subsequent slower rate of cognitive development (Arias and Pape 1999).  The second showed that.  The second found that CP in adolescence was inversely related to graduation from college (Aldarondo and Sugarman 1996).  A third study showed  that CP in childhood and adolescence is associated with lower economic and occupational achievement in adulthood(Straus and Gimpel 2001).  Taken together, these three studies support the ideas that the use of CP impacts adversely upon areas of success in school and work and that the effects of CP can be lifelong.  A problem with the three studies showing that CP is related to lower cognitive, academic, and economic achievement is that these studies did not control for the level of misbehavior at Time 1.  This is a crucial omission because parents spank in response to misbehavior, including failure to do homework and failing grades.  In addition, other behavior problems for which parents spank, such as lying, fighting, and disobedience are also associated with lower academic achievement.  Thus, what seems to be an adverse effect of CP on cognitive, academic, and economic achievement could be spurious.  It could result from the behavior problems that lead parents to spank and that also hamper academic achievement.  The research to be reported deals with this problem by controlling for the level of misbehavior at Time 1.  As a result, if the following hypothesis is supported, it cannot be explained by a tendency for misbehaving children to do more poorly in school:


The more CP a child experiences at ages 5 and 6, the more likely the child is to experience a subsequent reduction in academic achievement test score when measured two years later.


            In view of the prevalence of CP, if the hypothesis that CP leads to a decline in academic achievement is supported, it could have profound implications because: (1) Level of educational attainment is one of the major determinants of health status and health-related behaviors such as smoking, dietary habits, seat belt use, and use of preventive health care services (prenatal care, cancer screenings, immunizations for children); and (2) CP is a risk factor that is likely to be amenable to change by public health intervention and education.






The sample consists of mothers of 622 children who were age 5 and 6 in 1992 (Time 1).  These women were part of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), which began interviews with a cohort of females age 14 to 21 in 1979.   The original survey was funded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and focused primarily on issues related to the labor force and the work place.  The same women have been interviewed every two years since 1979.  As the cohort matured, the NLSY expanded to include questions about the children of these women. 


Five and six year-olds were chosen for this study for three main reasons.  First, the highest rate of spanking is between ages 2 and 6 (Straus and Stewart 1999).  Second, some advocates of CP suggest that it should not be used with children over six (Consensus statement) (Friedman and Schonberg 1996).  Third, this study is designed to assess changes in academic achievement as measured by the Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT).  The youngest children to whom the PIAT is administered are age 5.  Therefore, the sample represents a cohort with a relatively high incidence of CP, which occurs at an age considered by many as appropriate for this form of discipline, and for whom PIAT results were available at both Time 1 and Time 2 of the study. 


The 622 children represent 63% of the 985 NLSY children who were 5-6 years old in 1992.  The remaining 37% (N=363) were excluded due to missing data on one or more of the variables.  Most missing data elements were for CP in 1992 (N=86),  PIAT 92 (N=179),  PIAT 94 (N=154), the Cognitive Stimulation Index (N=172), and the Emotional Support Index (N=186).  The only other control variable with more than 10 missing cases was whether or not the father was in the household (N=56).  To assess possible selection bias due to missing data, demographic characteristics of the sample analyzed were compared with those of the children who were excluded because of missing data.   Compared to those excluded, children in the sample had mothers with somewhat higher levels of education (12.6 vs. 11.9 average years), higher PIAT scores in both 1992 (54.5 vs.47.7) and 1994 (54.5 vs. 48.2), and scored significantly higher on the emotional support index (49.1 vs. 44.8).  The proportion of African-American children in the sample was the same as that of the excluded (29%), but there was a significantly lower proportion of Hispanic-Americans (21.8% vs. 29.5%) and a correspondingly higher proportion of Euro-Americans (49.1% vs. 41.2%) in the sample compared to those excluded.  Finally, the sample children were significantly more likely to have a father in the household in 1992 than were those excluded from the sample (66.0% vs. 54.3%).  There was no significant difference between the sample and non-sample children in mother's age at birth (25 years), number of children in the household (2.6), level of cognitive stimulation (46.2 vs. 42.1), gender, and percent not spanked during the week for which CP data was gathered (53.4 vs. 52.0).   These differences indicate that the cases retained for analysis are somewhat higher in socioeconomic status and higher academic achievement than the NLSY sample as whole.




Corporal Punishment.  CP was measured at Time 1 using the following 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?"  Fifty-two percent of mothers reported no spanking in the previous week, while 15.5% reported using CP three or more times.


Academic Achievement.  Academic achievement at both Time 1 (1992) and Time 2 (1994) was measured by the Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT) for Math and for Reading Recognition.  The PIAT provides a wide-range measure of academic achievement for children five and over.  It is among the most widely used achievement tests and has high test-retest reliability and concurrent validity (Baker, Keck, Mott, and Quinlan 1993).  Percentile scores for the math and reading components were combined to produce a summary PIAT score for each child in each time period.  The mean PIAT score was 54.7 at both Time 1 and Time 2.  The standard deviation for each year was about 23.


Antisocial Behavior.  Children’s level of antisocial behavior (ASB) is considered a major “cause” of the use of CP by parents.  It is measured in this study by a subscale of the NLSY Behavioral Problems Index.  Items include: Cheats or tells lies; Bullies or is cruel/mean to others; Does not feel sorry for misbehaving; Breaks things deliberately; Is disobedient at school; and Has trouble getting along with teachers. 

Cognitive Stimulation and Emotional Support.  The measures of cognitive stimulation and emotional support by the mother are subscales from the Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment - Short Form (HOME-SF) inventory, which includes subscales appropriate for each age (Caldwell and Bradley 1984).  An extensive review of these scales indicates that they are internally consistent, stable over time, and predictive of a variety of child outcomes, including academic achievement. 


Each scale contains similar items for 5 and 6 year olds.  Examples of cognitive stimulation items include how often the child is read to, how many books the child has, and how often a family member takes the child on an outing (to a park, to shop, to picnic, etc.).   The emotional support scale includes items such as how much choice the child has over food at breakfast or lunch, how many hours the TV is on in the home each day, and how often the child eats a meal with both the mother and father (or other male partner). 


Mother’s Level of Education.  Mother’s level of educational attainment was employed as an indicator of socioeconomic status (SES) in this study for three reasons: (1) it directly affects children’s academic achievement; (2) it has a strong inverse association with CP use; and (3) it is a stable indicator of SES.


            From a public-health standpoint, income and education tend to have different and independent effects on health-related phenomena.  Education is associated more with internalized health-related attitudes and behaviors such as smoking and seatbelt use, while income is associated more with external phenomena such as financial barriers to utilization of health care resources.  In this sense, CP represents a health-related behavior that is associated more with education than with income, and therefore is amenable to change through education.


Other Independent Variables.  Five other maternal, child, and family characteristics were selected as control variables from the NLSY data set due to their association with both CP and academic achievement: mother's age at birth of child, race and gender of child, number of children in household, and presence of father in household.


Nineteen percent of mothers had less than 12 years education in 1992, while 14% were college graduates.  About 49% of the sample children were Euro-American, 29%  African-American, and 22% Hispanic-American.  Just over 52% were male and about 48% were female.  The average maternal age at child's birth was 25.1 years, with 99% of the range being between 21 and 29 years of age.  Two-thirds of mothers reported that the father was present in the household at the time of interview, while the average number of children in the household in 1992 was 2.6, with over 83% reporting between 2 and 4 children. 


            Due to the oversample of low socioeconomic respondents by the NLSY, and because of missing data, the sample of the current study is not representative of either that of the National Longitudinal Survey or of the US as a whole.  However, because the sample used for this analysis is somewhat higher in socioeconomic status and academic achievement test score than the NLSY sample as a whole, the sample used for this study may be closer to being representative of the US population than would be the case if there were no cases lost because of missing data.


Data Analysis


The data analysis began with inspecting the frequency distributions of all variables for skewness and outliers.  Then cross tabulation and correlations were computed to provide an initial examination of the bivariate relationships of CP with the other variables.


The hypothesis was tested using hierarchical regression.  Three models were estimated.  The first examined the relation of Time 1 academic achievement (PIAT92) and the  eight control variables (antisocial behavior, mother’s level of education, child Hispanic-American, child African-American, age of mother at child's birth, father's presence in the home, and number of children in the home) to academic achievement at Time 2.  These controls are characteristics that may explain or underlie the association between CP and child academic achievement.


Model 2 focused on whether CP and two other aspects of parent-child interaction (cognitive stimulation; emotional support) could provide any additional explanation of academic achievement.  For the effect of CP to be significant, Model 2 must add to the variance explained in academic achievement at Time 2 net of all variables in Model 1.


            Model 3 added five interaction variables.  They were the interactions of CP with: 1) the PIAT 92 score, 2) child's race African-American, 3) mother's level of education, 4) cognitive stimulation, and 5) emotional support.




Prevalence of Corporal Punishment


(Insert Table 1 about here)


Table 1 reports the one-week prevalence of spanking of 5 and 6 year olds for the week prior to the 1992 interview.  Overall, about half of mothers reported "no spanking", while about 16% reported having spanked 3 or more times. 


            Cross-tabular analysis of CP by each control variable showed that mothers in the lowest education group were far more likely to use CP than were their more highly educated counterparts.  They also exhibited a much higher frequency of spanking. Euro-Americans had the lowest rate of spanking among the three race/ethnic groups, followed by Hispanic-Americans, then African Americans.  Boys were much more likely  than girls to have been spanked, although the proportion of boys and girls spanked 3 or more times was not significantly different.  Mothers with four or more children were much more likely to spank than were those with fewer than four children.  They were also much more likely to report spanking 3 or more times than were mothers with smaller families.  Father’s presence in household and older maternal age were somewhat related to lower rates of CP use.  The last row of Table 1 is at the heart of much controversy about CP and bears directly on the need for longitudinal research.  It shows that children with a high level of antisocial behavior(ASB) were spanked much more than children who were low to middle ASB.  The fact that use of CP is associated with misbehavior highlights the necessity of controlling for the level of ASB when examining the relation of CP to academic achievement.  This is because, is ASB is not controlled, finding that CP is associated with lower achievement scores could simply reflect the fact that children who are high in ASB are more likely to be spanked and less likely to do well in school.


CP and Academic Achievement


(Insert Figure 1 about here)


            Figure 1 shows that the more CP experienced by the children in this sample in 1992, the lower their mean score on the PIAT, both that year and in 1994.  The relationship between CP and PIAT score was slightly stronger in 1994 than in 1992.


            The relationships in Figure 1 might be spurious due to confounding of both CP and PIAT scores with other family characteristics such as socioeconomic status and the age of the mother.  The multiple regression analysis will deal with this issue by including ten control variables in the model estimated.


            Another limitation of Figure 1 is that the relationship between CP and PIAT score could reflect a tendency for parents to spank children who do badly in school.  Just as a good report card can be the occasion for praise and reward, a bad report card can be the occasion for admonition and spanking.  This use of CP is illustrated by a coach at one high school who said,  “Just as a father would do, coaches review each player's report cards every six weeks.   Those with bad grades line up for the punishment: licks with a wooden paddle wrapped in athletic tape.  Five for an F. Three for a D. Three for bad marks in conduct”  (Aimee Edmondson,  “Short of the Goal" The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, January 14, 2001).


            The possibility that the causal direction is the opposite of the hypothesized direction is also plausible because children who do poorly in school tend to have other behavior problems which might elicit CP.  The regression analysis will deal with this issue by including Time 1 PIAT score as one of the independent variables.  This permits examining whether CP is associated with a subsequent change in PIAT scores.  Parents who use CP to correct misbehavior, including poor school performance, expect their use of CP to result in better behavior subsequently.  Our hypothesis, however, predicts that use of CP will be associated with a subsequent change for the worse.


Correlation Of CP and Academic Achievement With Other Variables


(Insert Table 2 about here)


Table 2 provides the zero-order correlations of all the variables in the study.  Going down the first two columns of Table 2 enables one to examine the correlates of PIAT scores at Times 1 and 2.   The correlation of the two PIAT scores, although fairly high (.61), also means that the Time 1 score explains only 36% of the variance of the Time 2 score.  Thus, many other factors contributed to changes over the two-year time span.


CP was associated with PIAT scores in both 1992 and 1994.  Consistent with the rationale underlying this study, both correlations are negative, and the correlation at Time 2 is higher (-.28 compared to -.19).  Almost all of the control variables were significantly correlated with both PIAT92 and PIAT94.


The third column of Table 2 gives the correlates of CP with the rest of the variables in the study.  There are significant correlations of CP with all but two of the controls: Child Hispanic, and father in household.  The strongest correlations with CP were for Antisocial Behavior, Cognitive Stimulation and Emotional Support.


Regression Analysis of Corporal Punishment and Academic Achievement


(Insert Table 3 about here)


Table 3 presents results of the hierarchical regression analysis to test the hypothesis that CP is associated with a subsequent decline in academic achievement score.  Model 1 shows that academic achievement at Time 1 and mother's level of education were significantly related to increases in academic achievement score from Time 1 to Time 2, whereas African-American children experienced a decline in PIAT scores.  These relationships replicate results from many studies of academic achievement.


Model 2 was estimated to determine if CP and two other measures of mother-child interaction (cognitive stimulation, emotional support) add significantly to the variance in PIAT scores explained by the demographic variables in Model 1.  The results show that cognitive stimulation is associated with an increase in PIAT scores from Time 1 to Time 2, while CP is associated with a decrease.  The row for Corporal Punishment shows that for every increase of one unit in CP, there was a decrease of 2.7 points in PIAT percentile score from 1992 to 1994


            In Model 2, mother’s education, and African-American race remain significantly related to change in PIAT score.  Adding these variables resulted in a significant increase in the variance in academic achievement score explained by Model 2 compared to Model 1.


            Model 3 added the interaction of CP with five other variables: 1) the PIAT 92 score, 2) child's race African-American, 3) mother's level of education, 4) cognitive stimulation, and 5) emotional support.   None of these interactions were significant.  Moreover, adding the interactions to the model resulted in a reduction of the amount of variance explained in the dependent variable, leaving model 2 as the best fitting model.




This study tested the hypothesis that use of CP on 5 and 6 year-old children adversely affects their performance on a standard test of academic achievement.  The results are consistent with that hypothesis.  They show that the frequency of spanking at Time 1 was significantly associated with a decrease in achievement test score two years later.  The analysis controlled for many other variables including child’s antisocial behavior, mother’s education, race and gender of child, father's presence in the home, number of children in the household, cognitive stimulation, and emotional support.


The results of this study are consistent with and extend those of a study that examined the relation of CP to change in the cognitive development of children age 2-4 and 5-9 and found that CP was associated with slower cognitive development for both age cohorts (Arias and Pape 1999).  The beta coefficient for the relation of CP to change in cognitive development was -.06.   The present study used the identical set of independent variables.  Despite adding a control for child’s antisocial behavior at Time 1, the beta for the relation of CP to change in academic achievement score was just over twice as large (-.13).  One possible interpretation of the stronger link between CP and academic achievement than between CP and cognitive development is that academic achievement is a more malleable characteristic.  The practical implication is that a program to limit or end CP is likely to have a greater effect on academic achievement than on cognitive ability per se.


(Insert Figure 2 about here)


            More important than comparing the degree to which CP hinders cognitive development and academic achievement, is to view these two relationships as connected parts of a developmental sequence.  Figure 2 shows these relationships, along with some other processes linking CP with lower academic achievement.  There is research evidence showing that CP is related to each of the processes in the center box of Figure 2.  The slower cognitive development was shown in a previous longitudinal study (Straus and Paschall In Press, 2003).  The weakened bond to parents is shown in Chapters 2-3 and 2-4, the lower self-esteem was shown in Chapter 2-4, depression was shown in an earlier study (Straus 1995), and antisocial behavior was shown in Chapter 2-1.  However, the chart is labeled as a “theoretical model” because there is as yet no study that included all of these variables in the same study.




            An important limitation is the inability to differentiate between children who were "never spanked" and those who were not spanked during the seven days before the Time 1 interview.  The latter group might include a substantial number of children whose parents do spank, but only rarely.  It is important to determine whether or not the "never spanked" fare better than children who were rarely spanked.  It is possible that there is some threshold use of CP that is critical to maladaptive social and psychological outcomes in children.  This is the view of those who defend “moderate” use of CP (Friedman and Schonberg 1996) but that view is based on cultural tradition rather than empirical evidence.


            Another possible limitation of this study concerns "effect size."  A 2.7 percentile point decrement for every one-point increase in the CP index may be interpreted as a small (although statistically significant) effect.  However, the difference in academic achievement over a two-year period between the "non-spanked" and those spanked three or more times in the interview week is more than 8 percentile points.  This is both a statistically significant difference and a "real-life" difference.  This eight-point difference is after controlling for ten maternal, child, and family demographic characteristics.


            A third limitation of the study is that there is no information on CP by the fathers of these children.  Given that mothers spend more time with their children whether or not they work outside the home, there is a high probability that most of the children reported as not spanked by the mother in the past week, were not spanked by their father either.  Therefore, if unreported CP by the father has any effect, it likely understates the impact of CP on academic achievement since the "not spanked" pool is diluted by some who have received CP from the father.




The findings of this study contribute to the growing body of empirical evidence that CP is an important risk factor for children.  First, CP is inversely related to educational achievement, which is a major determinant of health status and health-related behaviors such as tobacco use, adverse pregnancy outcomes, mortality and morbidity at all life stages, and utilization of preventive care services (prenatal care, well-child visits, cancer screenings).  Second, almost the entire range of maladaptive outcomes related to CP use  (including decline in academic achievement) falls within the World Health Organization definition of health as “ a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”  Finally, CP is a behavior that is amenable to change through public-health and parent education.

            The current study focused on a relatively short period of time (two years), but the results may have longer-term implications.  It may be that once the spanking stops (for many a little later in childhood), those children will make up the ground lost in their early years.  It seems likely, however, that this early hurdle will remain for many.  It may begin a downward spiral from which they may never fully recover.  It is not unlikely that a frequently spanked child whose achievement scores decline 8 points in two years early in life relative to a non-spanked child will suffer both short- and long-term consequences.


            The results of this study parallel  those of several previous studies in showing  that spanking is detrimental to the health and well-being of children and their future (Straus 2001a).  In addition, there is clear experimental and other evidence that CP is not necessary because non-spanking modes of correction and control work just as well or better, even with children who repeatedly misbehave (Day and Roberts 1983; Larzelere, Sather, Schneider, Larson, and Pike 1998; Larzelere, Schneider, Larson, and Pike 1996; LaVoie 1974; Roberts and Powers 1990).   Parent educator, pediatricians, and parents need to be informed of this evidence as a key step in reducing and eventually ending the use of CP.


            Harmful Effect Of CP Apply To African Americans.  The results of this study also provide some of the needed additional research on the belief that, in the context of African American culture and life circumstances, CP may be necessary rather than harmful.  Many African Americans, both among the general public and among social scientists, and also researchers of other races who defend CP, such as Baumrind  (1996, 1996 #3476) and Gunnoe (1997), believe that in the difficult life circumstances faced by many African Americans, CP may be necessary and that children understand this and hence are not harmed by CP.  About half the studies with empirical data on this issue support that belief, and about half show that CP is bad for African American children as well (see Appendix to the book in which this article will be published).  The results of this study, which did not show a “moderator effect” for African American children, add to studies finding that the harmful effect of CP apply to African American children as well as other race/ethnic groups.


            The Prospects For Change.  Although spanking toddlers remains in the 90% or higher range, there has been a large reduction in CP of older children (Straus and Stewart 1999).  Public attitudes are less and less favorable to CP (Straus 2001b; Straus and Mathur 1996).  These changes suggest that now is the time to provide professionals who advise parents with the two key conclusions from research on CP.  First,  longitudinal studies show that CP tends to boomerang and increase the probability of the very things for which parents spank.  Second, although CP works to secure compliance, it is not more effective than other modes of correcting and teaching children.  Consequently, there is no need for parents to expose their children to the risk of the harmful side effects of CP.  We are at a point in history when parents and professionals are likely to be ready to respond to a no-spanking recommendation based on the currently available scientific evidence.


Table 1. Spanking Of 5-6 Year-Olds By Selected Family And Child Characteristics, NLSY, 1992.


Family or                                                Number of Spanks in Past Week

Child                                                       __________________________________________________

Characteristic                                        0                              1                              2                              3 or more                Chi Square


Total                                                       52.1%                     20.4%                     12.1%                     15.4%


Mother’s Education

                <12                                          40.7                         16.8                         18.6                         23.9                         16.8**

  12                                          52.7                         21.2                         11.7                         14.4

                  13+                                        56.7                         21.2                           9.4                         12.7


Child’s Race

Hispanic-American              49.6                         19.7                         15.3                         15.3                         22.3**

                African-American                41.9                         20.1                         17.3                         20.7

                Euro-American                     59.2                         20.9                           7.5                         12.4


Child’s Gender

                Male                                       46.8                         22.2                         14.6                         16.4                         9.0*

                Female                                    58.0                         18.4                           9.2                         14.3


# Children in Household

1                                              58.9                         19.2                           8.2                         13.7                         17.8*

2                                              53.9                         23.2                         10.3                         12.5

3                                              53.8                         17.6                         12.1                         16.5

4 or more                                38.5                         18.8                         19.8                         22.9


Father in Household

Yes                                         53.3                         20.6                            9.9                        16.2                         5.5

No                                           49.8                         20.1                         16.3                         13.9


Mother’s Age at child’s birth

21-24                                       48.0                         20.7                         12.7                         18.5                         4.9

25-29                                       55.3                         20.2                         11.5                         13.0


Anti-social behavior

                High                                       29.1                         19.7                         18.1                         33.1                         81.0***

                Mid-High                               38.9                         24.8                         16.8                         19.5

                Middle                                   61.8                         20.1                           8.3                           9.7

                Mid-Low                                64.6                         14.6                           8.3                         12.5

                Low                                        64.8                         21.8                           9.2                           4.2


*p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001

Table 2. Zero-Order Correlations Of Spanking And Academic Achievement Score With Other Variables.  (N=622)


                                                                                2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10            11            12                                            13                14

1) PIAT92


2) PIAT94                                              .61**


3) CP92                                                   -.19**     -.28**    


4) Anti-Social Behavior                       -.16**     -.17**     .34**


5) Cognitive Stim                                  .32**      .39**      -.22**     -.25**


6) Emotional  Sup                                 .25**      .25**      -.34**     -.22**     .33**


7) Mother’s Ed                                     .28**      .29**      -.14**     -.13**     .39**      .13**


8) Hispanic-American                          -.13**     -.08          .03           .01           -.15**     .09*         -.13**


9) African-American                            -.11**     -.21**     .15**      .08           -.23**     -.33**     .05           -.34**    


10) Euro-American                               .20**      .25**      -.16**     -.08          .33**      .23**      .06           -.52**     -.63**


11) Child Female                                   -.04          -.08          .09*         .09*         -.05          -.06          -.00          .04           -.02          -.01


12) # Children in HH                            -.12**     -.14**     .12**      .06           -.19**     -.12*       -.22**     .02           .06           -.07          .08


13) Father in HH                                   -.21**     -.17**     .02           .10*         -.29**     -.38**     -.11**     .05           .27**      -.28**     -.04          -.05*


14) Moth's Age at Ch Birth                -.12**     .11**      -.10*       -.08*       .17**      .05           .21**      -.04          -.12**     .14**      -.00          .01                                               -.14**


Mean                                                      54.7         54.7         .91           588.9       46.3         49.2         12.7         .22           .29           .49           2.6           .34                                             25.1

Std Dev                                                  22.9         23.4         1.12         276.1       29.6         29.7         2.2           .41           .45           .50           1.1           .47                                              2.4


*p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001
Table 3. Hierarchical Regression Analyses of the Relation of Spanking at Time 1 to Academic Achievement score at Time 2 (N=622)


                                                                                 Model 1                                                                  Model 2                                                                  Model 3              

Independent Variable                          B(SE)                      Beta            t                             B(SE)                    Beta           t                              B(SE)                                            Beta                  t


Background Characteristics


                  PIAT92 (Time 1)                 0.55 (0.03)              .54         16.19***                  0.52 (0.03)                .51         15.35***                  0.53 (0.04) .52                  12.01**

                 Anti-Social Behavior      -0.00 (0.00)         -.05       -1.60                  0.00 (0.00)                .01           0.25                         0.00 (0.00)            .04                1.03

                  Mother’s Education          1.45 (0.37)              .13           3.97***                  0.94 (0.38)                .09           2.50*                       0.59(0.49)  .05                  1.21

                  Child Hispanic-Amer        -2.67 (1.89)             -.05          -1.41                        -0.93 (1.89)               -.02          -0.49                        -1.14 (1.90) -.02             -0.60

                  Child African-Amer          -8.64 (1.81)             -.17          -4.79***                 -6.23 (1.85)               -.12          -3.37***                 -3.69 (2.43) -.07             -1.52

                  Child Female                      -2.17 (1.45)             -.05          -1.49                        -1.73 (1.42)               -.04          -1.21                        -1.61 (1.43) -.03             -1.13

                  # Children in HH               -0.59 (0.67)             -.03            -.88                        -0.18 (0.66)               -.01          -0.27                        -0.13 (0.67) -.01             -0.19

                  Father in HH                       0.43 (1.64)              .01           0.26                         0.74 (1.72)                .01           0.43                         0.82 (1.72) .02                  0.48

                  Mother’s Age at Birth     -0.02 (0.32)             -.00          -0.06                        -0.13 (0.31)               -.01          -0.42                        -0.09 (0.31) -.01             -0.30


Mother-Child Characteristics


                Cognitive Stimulation                                                                                          0.12 (0.03)                .15           3.92***                  0.14 (0.04) .18                3.65***

                Emotional Support                                                                                              -0.02 (0.03)               -.02          -0.54                        -0.01 (0.04) -.01           0.20

                Spanking                                                                                                              -2.74 (0.71)               -.13          -3.84***                 -3.37 (4.61) -.02           -0.08


Interaction Terms

                CP X PIAT92                                                                                                                                                                                         -0.01 (0.03) -.03           -0.44

                CP X Anti-Social Behavior                                                                                                                                                 -0.00 (0.00)        -.15       -1.49

                CP X Child African-American                                                                                                                                                             -2.63 (1.50) -.09           -1.76

                CP X Mother’s  Education                                                                                                                                                                   0.27 (0.31) .16                0.86

                CP X Cognitive Stimulation                                                                                                                                                                -0.03 (0.03) -.07           -1.09

                CP X Emotional Support                                                                                                                                                                      -0.01 (0.03) -.02           -0.42


Adjusted  R2                                                                       0.413***                                                                  0.440***                                       0.439***

Change in R2                                                                    ---                                                                                  .027**                                               -0.001


*p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001



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