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Child corporal punishment: Spanking

Results of studies during 1987 to 1995

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Overview (repeated):

Many studies into the effects of spanking have proven to be highly unreliable because they are largely based on the researchers' interpretation of children's behavior.

Study bias is a common phenomenon among behavioral studies in which the researchers have a committed position and are required to judge behavior. However, there are a few studies that largely bypass such judgment. The effects of research bias are minimal or non-existent.

One such study conducted during 1987 to 1995 involved statistical analysis of data from a very large existing population health survey by the Ontario Ministry of Health. Although this is a Canadian study, we believe that its findings are probably in the U.S.

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1987: Mauer-Wallerstein study:

Adah Maurer, Ph.D. & James S. Wallerstein, compiled the following composite report from a variety of sources: 1

Degree of physical punishment during childhood

Group Never Rare Moderate Severe Extreme
Violent inmates at San Quentin 0% 0% 0% 0% 100%
Juvenile Delinquents 0% 2% 3% 31% 64%
High School dropouts 0% 7% 23% 69% 0%
College freshmen/women 2% 23% 40% 33% 0%
Professionals 5% 40% 36% 17% 0%

Cathy Woodgold, webmaster of "Cathy's Parenting Pages" commented:

"The implications of these results are clear. The more someone is successful in life (not being a juvenile delinquent, not dropping out of school etc.) the less likely they were to have been physically punished as a child or the less severe the physical punishment. To put it the other way around: the more physical punishment, the more likely the person later became a criminal, high-school dropout etc." 2

Taking part in this survey were:

bullet Professionals were composed of 200 psychologists who filled out anonymous questionnaires,
bullet 372 college students were sampled at the University of California, Davis and California State University at Fresno,
bullet 52 slow track underachievers were from Richmond High School; city and state unknown.
bullet Delinquents were interviewed by Dr. Ralph Welsh in Bridgeport, CT and by Dr. Alan Button in Fresno, CA.
bullet Prisoner information was by courtesy of Hobart Banks, M.S.W., counselor of difficult prisoners at San Quentin Penitentiary, San Quentin, California. 1

1995: Corporal punishment, adult addiction & psychiatric problems:

Psychiatric and addiction: Dr. Harriet McMillan of McMaster University in Hamilton, ON Canada led a six-person team which studied the possible correlation between childhood spanking and subsequent behavior problems in adulthood. 3

They based their study on data collected as part of a massive 1990 population health survey by the Ontario Ministry of Health of 10,000 adults in the province. Five thousand of the subjects had been asked questions about many topics; one involved spanking during childhood. Unlike many previous studies, the researchers deleted from the sample group anyone who recalled being physically or sexually abused. This left adults who had "only" been spanked and/or slapped during childhood. Incidences of adult disorders were:
Adult disorder Never spanked Rarely spanked Sometimes/often spanked
Anxiety 16.3% 18.8% 21.3%
Major depression 4.6% 4.8% 6.9%
Alcohol abuse or addiction 5.8% 10.2% 13.2%
More than one disorder * 7.5% 12.6% 16.7%

* More than one disorder included illicit drug abuse, addictions & antisocial behavior.

Their results were published in the Canadian Medical Journal for 1995-OCT. 4 They reported that

"there appears to be a linear association between the frequency of slapping and spanking during childhood and a lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorder, alcohol abuse or dependence and externalizing problems."

Jim Sclater of Focus on the Family (Canada) Association -- a Fundamentalist Christian advocacy group -- commented:

"We're always very suspicious of studies that come from the other side that predictably are looking for anything that could be construed as saying spanking leads to abuse."

Since the study was a statistical one involving previously collected data, it is difficult to see how study bias could be a factor here.

More studies

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 Home > Morality menu > Spanking > Spanking sub menu > here

or Home > Hot religious topics > Spanking > Spanking sub menu > here

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Adah Maurer, Ph.D. & James S. Wallerstein, "The Influence of Corporal Punishment on Crime," (1987), The Natural Child Project, at:
  2. Cathy Woodgold, untitled note, Cathy's Parenting Pages, at:
  3. Harriet McMillan, et al., "Slapping and spanking in childhood and its association with lifetime prevalence of psychiatric disorders in a general population sample,"  Canadian Medical Association Journal, 1999-OCT-5, at:
  4. "Punished for life: Canadian study links spanking to addiction and psychiatric disorders," Reuters, 1999-OCT-5. Online at:

Copyright 1995 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2009-MAY-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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