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Child corporal punishment: Spanking

Results of studies: 2004 to 2006

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As noted elsewhere, 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. Such interpretations are heavily subject to bias.

However, there are a few studies in which research bias is minimal or non-existent. Four such investigations were reported on between 2004 and 2010.

2004: University of Michigan study of spanking and anti-social behavior of children:

Andrew Grogan-Kaylor of the University of Michigan's School of Social Work conducted a study to determine whether spanking children led to their anti-social behavior later in life. He accessed data from the years 1994, 1996 and 1998 of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The results of the study were published in the 2004-SEP issue of Social Work Research. 1 Information for more than 1,800 children were analyzed. Mothers were asked about incidences of cheating, lying, bullying, breaking things deliberately or getting into trouble at school. They were also asked how often, if ever, they had spanked their child in the previous week. Grogan-Kaylor said that:

"Even minimal amounts of spanking can lead to an increased likelihood in antisocial behavior by children....This study provides further methodologically rigorous support for the idea that corporal punishment is not an effective or appropriate disciplinary strategy." 2

The Social Work Research Journal's abstract reads:

"This study was conducted to examine the effect of corporal punishment on antisocial behavior of children using stronger statistical controls than earlier literature in this area; to examine whether the effect of corporal punishment on antisocial behavior is nonlinear; and to investigate whether the effects of corporal punishment on antisocial behavior differ across racial and ethnic groups. The author used a non-experimental design and data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The analysis was conducted using fixed-effects methods to control for observed independent variables and unobserved time-invariant variables. Corporal punishment had a nontrivial effect on children's antisocial behavior in later years despite the strong controls introduced by the fixed-effects models. The analysis provides no evidence for differences in the effect of corporal punishment across racial and ethnic groups."

You can view the entire article in your browser for $35.00 US. 3

2004: Johns Hopkins study of behavior problems in school:

Eric P. Slade and Lawrence S. Wissow of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health conducted a study to explore whether a relationship exists between spanking frequency of infants before age 24 months and behavior problems at the start of their schooling.

Earlier studies have found a correlation between spanking and school behavioral problems, but had been limited to children who were only spanked older than 24 months.

They found that:

"Among white non-Hispanic children but not among black and Hispanic children, spanking frequency before age 2 is significantly and positively associated with child behavior problems at school age." 4

2006: U.S. National study:

A study, based on a national survey on mental health, found that physical punishment in childhood is associated with an increased rate of major depression and alcohol abuse or dependence later in life. Physical punishment was defined in the study as minor assault such as being slapped, spanked, pushed, or shoved.

The study also found that physical abuse, defined as including being kicked, hit with an object, beaten up or choked, was also associated with these and other psychiatric disorders. 5

The PubMed abstract states:

"Physical punishment, as a means of disciplining children, may be considered a mild form of childhood adversity. Although many outcomes of physical punishment have been investigated, little attention has been given to the impact of physical punishment on later adult psychopathology. Also, it has been stated that physical punishment by a loving parent is not associated with negative outcomes; however, this theory has not been empirically tested with regard to psychiatric disorders. The main objective of the present study was to investigate three categories of increasing severity of childhood adversity (no physical punishment or abuse, physical punishment only, and child abuse) to examine whether the childhood experience of physical punishment alone was associated with adult psychopathology, after adjusting for sociodemographic variables and parental bonding dimensions.

METHODS: Data were drawn from the nationally representative National Comorbidity Survey (NCS, n=5,877; age 15-54 years; response rate 82.4%). Binary logistic and multinomial logistic regression models were used to determine the odds of experiencing psychiatric disorders.

RESULTS: Physical punishment was associated with increased odds of major depression (AOR=1.22; 95% CI=1.01-1.48), alcohol abuse/dependence (AOR=1.32; 95% CI=1.08-1.61), and externalizing problems (AOR=1.30; 95% CI=1.05-1.60) in adulthood after adjusting for sociodemographic variables and parental bonding dimensions. Individuals experiencing physical punishment only were at increased odds of adult psychopathology compared to those experiencing no physical punishment/abuse and at decreased odds when compared to those who were abused.

CONCLUSIONS: Physical punishment is a mild form of childhood adversity that shows an association with adult psychopathology. 6

University of Toronto study of a link between child abuse and heart disease later in life:

According to an article in the 2010-AUG issue of the journal Child Abuse & Neglect, physical abuse during childhood is coorelated with heavily elevated rates of heart disease during childhood.

Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson said:

"Individuals who reported they had been physically abused as children had 45 per cent higher odds of heart disease than their peers who had not been abused, despite the fact we had adjusted for most of the known risk factors for heart disease.:

They controlled for:

"... health behaviours such as smoking, obesity and physical activity level, as well as other adverse childhood experiences such as parental addictions, adult income and education level, diabetes, self-reported stress and a history of high blood pressure and mood disorders."

These findings were based on data from a 2005 representative community survey conducted in two Canadian provinces and involving 13,000 respondents. Seven per cent stated they had been physically abused as children.

The study left it up to the respondent to define whether they had been physically abused. Some would probably regard being spanked frequently was a form of child abuse, while other would consider only major physical punishment to be abuse. If a similar study were done that would differentiate among adults who reported that had not been spanked, had been been occasionally spanked, frequently spanked, or physically abused, the increase in heart disease would probably be much lower for those who had been occasionally or frequently spanked.

Co-author John Frank, director of Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy, said:

"This finding, if replicated in other studies, suggests that patients known to have experienced child abuse or neglect should have their cardiovascular risk factors managed somewhat more aggressively than other persons, since they are at greater risk. ... Like many previous studies linking early life characteristics and experiences with late life serious disease, this study does not explain precisely how such links operate, biologically; further research will be required to understand that process." 7

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References used:

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

  1. Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, "The effect of corporal punishment on antisocial behavior in children," Social Work Research, Vol. 28, # 3, 2004-SEP, Pages 153-162.
  2. "U-M study: Spanking can lead to more bad behavior by children," University of Michigan News Service, 2004-SEP-08, at:
  3. The abstract is online at: You can also purchase the article from the same URL.
  4. E.P. Slade & L.S. Wissow, "Spanking in Early Childhood and Later Behavior Problems: A Prospective Study of Infants and Young Toddlers," Pediatrics Vol. 113, # 5, 2004-MAY, Pages 1321 - 1330. Abstract online at:
  5. Tracie O Afifi, et al., "Physical punishment, childhood abuse and psychiatric disorders," Child Abuse and Neglect, 2006, Volume 30, Pages 1093-1103
  6. Ibid: Abstract at:
  7. Joyann Callender, "U of T researchers find link between child abuse and heart disease. Odds of heart disease 45 per cent higher," [email protected], 2010-AUG mailing.

Copyright 2004 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2014-APR-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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