Corporal Punishment by American Parents: National Data on Prevalence, Chronicity, Severity, and Duration, in Relation to Child and Family Characteristics

  • Murray A. Straus
  • Julie H. Stewart


We present data on corporal punishment (CP) by a nationally representative sample of 991 American parents interviewed in 1995. Six types of CP were examined: slaps on the hand or leg, spanking on the buttocks, pinching, shaking, hitting on the buttocks with a belt or paddle, and slapping in the face. The overall prevalence rate (the percentage of parents using any of these types of CP during the previous year) was 35% for infants and reached a peak of 94% at ages 3 and 4. Despite rapid decline after age 5, just over half of American parents hit children at age 12, a third at age 14, and 13% at age 17. Analysis of chronicity found that parents who hit teenage children did so an average of about six times during the year. Severity, as measured by hitting the child with a belt or paddle, was greatest for children age 5–12 (28% of such children). CP was more prevalent among African American and low socioeconomic status parents, in the South, for boys, and by mothers. The pervasiveness of CP reported in this article, and the harmful side effects of CP shown by recent longitudinal research, indicates a need for psychology and sociology textbooks to reverse the current tendency to almost ignore CP and instead treat it as a major aspect of the socialization experience of American children; and for developmental psychologists to be cognizant of the likelihood that parents are using CP far more often than even advocates of CP recommend, and to inform parents about the risks involved.

Punishment physical corporal spanking parent age infant gender SES ethnic region 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Murray A. Straus
  • Julie H. Stewart

There are no affiliations available

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