When we think of babies, we tend to think of the joy they bring, their sweetness
and beauty. Their faces cause our hearts to melt, their tiny feet and tiny
hands just beg to be kissed. The word "innocent" usually comes to mind, and
innocent they are of personal sin. But what must never be forgotten is that
babies are born in a state lacking sanctifying grace -- a state we refer
to as "original sin." Even after Baptism, when the eternal effects of original
sin have been blotted out, the temporal effects of original sin remain. These
effects make us prone to personal sin, to indulge the lower appetites, to
selfishness. The baby, though perfectly innocent of personal sin, is not
considering the needs of others, and when the baby grows, he is able to manifest
his concupiscence in actual sins. It is this tendency toward sin that is
natural to the human being and which must be dealt with carefully, with sound
To raise emotionally healthy children, parents need to be just, fair, reasonable,
in control, bendable but not breakable, affectionate, honest, understanding,
emotionally affirming, and grounded firmly in Christ and in the knowledge
of what ultimate pupose parenting serves -- to raise children to know, love,
and serve God. Consistency and unity between the parents in
carrying out this goal are absolutely crucial, and before a couple marry,
they should talk deeply with one another to determine how they will raise
any children God blesses them with and to help ensure they can achieve the
necessary consistency and unity in their lives as parents.
It seems that the children of those who want to be only their child's
"buddy," who are permissive, and afraid of their children's disappointment,
are constantly pushing against boundaries they can't see, trying to
The children of those who are controlling, rigid, power-hungry, angry,
emotionally cold and unaffirming grow up angry and wanting to rebel against
And the children of parents who are not consistent and unified become confused
and unable to discern. They come to have no firm foothold to balance on while
trying to make judgements about the world and themselves. They become
manipulative, playing one parent off the other, and their homes are places
of tension and stress as one parent resents the other for being lax, weak,
oblivious, and the "kiddies' best friend" while he or she has to be "mean"
and say no. No parent should ever be the "good guy" -- the permissive,
"fun one" -- while the other goes about the necessary business of setting
boundaries. This is the stuff that tears parents apart (and trust me, you
"good guys" out there: while children "love" the "can't say no" types when
they are young, they grow up to resent them and have little respect for them
later. You can count on it.)
One issue of vital concern is that of corporal punishment -- spanking. It
has become trendy to believe that spanking is always wrong and only "teaches
children to be violent." There are certainly abusive parents in the world.
There are those who spank when they could reason, who humiliate children
in public, who spank in a physically abusive way, or who don't see spanking
as a sad, rare duty but as a way of venting. But at times, and though
spanking should be a last resort always, corporal punishment is not only
necessary, but just, and crucial to the child's development as a Christian
and a member of society. To show how this is simply the way it is, to prove
that our ancestors throughout the ages weren't so wrong after all, I present
this study conducted by John S. Lyons and Robert E. Larzerle. They observed
what happened in Sweden when spanking was made illegal in 1979, and found
that child abuse rates shot up an amazing 489% over the next decade or so,
as did the rates of assaults by minors against other minors, which shot up
672% in that same time period. Their conclusions (my emphasis):
Why might Sweden
experience an increasing child abuse rate and an increase in assaults by
minors after outlawing corporal punishment? Haeuser's (1988) description
of some parental frustration and yelling in 1981 might indicate an increased
risk of escalation to abuse at that time. This is reminiscent of Baumrind's
(1973) observation of permissive parents. Compared to authoritative and
authoritarian parents, permissive parents were the most likely to report
"explosive attacks of rage in which they inflicted more pain or injury upon
the child than they had intended. . . . Permissive parents apparently became
violent because they felt that they could neither control the child's
behavior nor tolerate its effect upon themselves" (Baumrind, 1973, p.
35). Permissive parents used spanking less than did either authoritative
or authoritarian parents. So it could be that the prohibition of all spanking
eliminates a type of mild spanking that prevents further escalation of aggression
within discipline incidents (see Patterson's  coercive family process).
Haeuser's (1988) report suggests that Swedish parents later developed new,
firm discipline responses that reduced escalations to yelling and possibly
to child abuse.
If, in your parental
heart, you believe that a spanking is due, take courage in what you intuit
and what you can see from the effects of our permissiveness on our culture.
Be reasonable, be prudent, be forgiving, and most affectionate --
but do what is best for your child's soul (which would require that spanking
be rare, a last resort, and always -- always -- coupled with communication
and emotional validation). The abstract from the study is below...
Where is Evidence
Corporal Punishment Increases Aggression?
John S. Lyons,
University of Northwestern Medical School, Chicago, IL, USA Robert E. Larzelere,
Father Flanagan's Boys' Home Boys Town, NE, USA
Two recent reviews
of parental corporal punishment have found little sound evidence of detrimental
child outcomes such as child aggression. This paper explores whether the
1979 Swedish law against all corporal punishment has reduced their child
abuse. Sweden's 1979 law was welcomed by many as a much needed policy toward
reducing physical child abuse. Surprisingly, this search located only five
published studies with any relevant data. The best study found that the rate
of child abuse was 49% higher in Sweden than in the United States, comparing
a 1980 Swedish national survey with the average rates from two national surveys
in the United States in 1975 and 1985. By comparison, a retrospective survey
of university students in 1981 found that the Swedish child abuse rate was
21% of the USA rate in the 1960s and the 1970s, prior to the anti-spanking
law. More recent Swedish data indicate a 489% increase in one child abuse
statistic from 1981 through 1994, as well as a 672% increase in assaults
by minors against minors. The article discusses possible reasons for this
apparent increase in child abuse and calls for better evaluations of innovative
policies intended to reduce societal abuse and violence.
Poster presented at the XXVI International Congress of Psychology, Montreal,
August 18, 1996
Send correspondence about this paper to: Robert E. Larzelere, Psychology
Dept., 985450 Univ. of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE 68198; Email:
email@example.com; (402) 559-2282
Where is Evidence
Corporal Punishment Increases Aggression?
Two recent reviews
of the literature on parental corporal punishment have found few methodologically
sound studies. Further, hardly any of the soundest studies found detrimental
child outcomes associated with corporal punishment. This paper explores whether
there is evidence that the outlawing of corporal punishment by parents in
Sweden and other countries has had any discernible effect, particularly on
child abuse and, to a lesser degree, on child outcomes such as aggression.
Lyons, Anderson, and Larson (1993) attempted to review all journal articles
on corporal punishment by parents from 1984 through 1993. Only 24 of the
132 articles (17%) included any empirical data on corporal punishment. Less
than half of those (11) investigated corporal punishment as a possible cause
of some other variable. Most (83%) of the studies were cross-sectional, and
only one made any attempt to exclude child abuse from the measure of corporal
They concluded that there was empirical evidence supporting one of three
hypotheses: Several studies found that parents were more likely to use corporal
punishment themselves if their parents had used it. There was no sound evidence
that corporal punishment was ineffective, nor that it was associated with
Larzelere (in press) built on their review by extending the search of
peer-reviewed articles to the period 1974 to 1995 plus older articles that
met the inclusion criteria. The inclusion criteria were designed to exclude
studies that were cross-sectional or whose measures emphasized the severity
of usage of corporal punishment. Only 18 studies were found that both met
the two inclusion criteria and limited the sample to children under 13 years
of age. The 8 strongest studies found beneficial outcomes of corporal punishment,
usually in 2- to 6-year-olds. The 10 other studies were prospective (6) or
retrospective (4). Three of them found detrimental outcomes, but only 1 of
those 3 made any attempt to exclude abuse from its measure of corporal
punishment. Further, none of the 10 studies controlled for the initial level
of child misbehavior. This seems to be an important methodological problem,
since the frequency of every type of discipline response tends to be positively
associated with child misbehavior, whether the associations are cross-sectional
or longitudinal (Larzelere, Sather, Schneider, Larson, & Pike, 1996;
Larzelere, Schneider, Larson, & Pike, in press). Finally, no alternative
discipline response in any of the 18 studies was associated with more beneficial
child outcomes than was corporal punishment, whereas 7 alternatives were
associated with more detrimental child outcomes, mostly in 2- to 6-year-olds.
These reviews suggest that the empirical linkage between nonabusive corporal
punishment and aggression comes only from cross-sectional studies, studies
of teenagers, studies measuring particularly severe forms of corporal punishment,
and, perhaps, studies of punitiveness. This led us to ask how well current
societal experiments are working in countries that have outlawed all forms
of parental use of corporal punishment.
In 1979, Sweden passed a law prohibiting all corporal punishment by parents.
This was hailed as a crucial step in the effort to reduce child abuse (Deley,
1988; Feshbach, 1980; Ziegert, 1983). Several countries have passed similar
laws since then (Norway, Denmark, Finland, Austria, and Cyprus), and
organizations have formed to advocate against parental corporal punishment
throughout the world (e.g., End Physical Punishment of Children [EPOCH]:
Radda Barnen, no date).
This movement represents one of the most sweeping changes ever advocated
by social scientists. In the United States, for example, about 90% of parents
have spanked their 3-year-old children in the past year (Straus, 1983; Wauchope
& Straus, 1990). Some social scientific research has been used to support
the anti-spanking position (e.g., Hyman, 1995; Straus, 1994), but the reviews
summarized above have found such support coming primarily from methodologically
poor studies. Given the inconclusiveness of relevant research and the importance
of the issue, it is desirable to know whether child abuse has decreased in
Sweden following their 1979 anti-spanking law. Accordingly, this article
asks two inter-related questions: (1) To what extent have social scientists
evaluated the effect of the 1979 anti-spanking law in Sweden, and (2) what
do those evaluations indicate about the effects of the anti-spanking law
in reducing child abuse? We also report one finding about Swedish trends
in assaults by minors discovered during our study.
Literature Search for Evaluations
Two procedures were used to find evaluations of the effects of Sweden's
anti-spanking law. First, PsycLit was searched from 1974 through June of
1995 for all publications that included "Sweden" or "Swedish" and either
"punishment" or "spanking" in their abstracts. Second, Social Sciences Citation
Index was used to identify all articles citing Gelles and Edfeldt (1986)
through April 1995, because their study reported a well-done survey of Swedish
child abuse rates one year after the anti-spanking law was passed.
Empirical Evaluations of Sweden's Anti-Spanking Law
Five published studies and one unpublished paper were found that included
any empirical information relevant for evaluating the 1979 anti-spanking
law. Ziegert (1983) published a conceptual, preliminary article on why the
law should be effective. His only empirical data was from a Swedish opinion
poll showing that the percentage of respondents considering corporal punishment
to be necessary had dropped from 53% in 1965 to 35% in 1971 to 26% in 1979
and 1981. In an article comparing Swedish and American use of corporal
punishment, Solheim (1982) reported that 26% of Swedish respondents considered
corporal punishment necessary in 1978. Like Ziegert (1983), Solheim's (1982)
article was mostly nonempirical, discussing such issues as court decisions
about corporal punishment in schools, the 1979 law, and expert opinions.
Together these two articles show that the decline in support for the necessity
of parental corporal punishment in Sweden preceded the 1979 law, and it did
not decrease thereafter, at least through 1981.
A third article reported the rate of child homicides in various European
countries, comparing 1973/1974 with approximately 1987/1988 (Pritchard, 1992).
Note that this compared statistics before and after the 1979 law. The Swedish
child homicide rate was the sixth lowest of the 17 countries at both time
periods. However, it nearly doubled from 1973/1974 to 1986/1987. Sweden's
93% increase in its child homicide rate was the fifth largest percentage
increase among the 17 countries. It should also be noted that the rate of
accidental baby deaths in Sweden was the lowest of the 17 countries at both
time periods. Unlike the child homicide rate, it decreased by 67% between
the two time periods, although 10 of the other 16 countries decreased their
accidental baby death rates by an even larger percentage.
A fourth article compared child abuse rates among university students at
one Swedish university compared to one American university as reported in
a 1981 survey (Deley, 1988). Because these were retrospective reports, they
were child abuse rates during the 1960s and the 1970s as these students were
growing up, a time period preceding the 1979 law. The critical question asked
whether a spanking had ever left physical marks that lasted for more than
10 minutes. Two percent of the Sweden students reported receiving such physical
marks from a spanking, compared to 9.5% of the American students. Although
this is far from a representative sample, this suggests that the child abuse
rate in Sweden was only 21% of the American child abuse rate in the 1960s
and 1970s (i.e., 2.0 divided by 9.5 = .21).
The fifth and best study used telephone surveys of a nationally representative
sample of Swedish parents to measure the rates of spanking and of child abuse
in 1980 (Gelles & Edfeldt, 1986). It used the Conflict Tactics Scale,
which was also used to measure the prevalence of spanking and child abuse
in two National Family Violence Surveys in the USA (Straus & Gelles,
1986; Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980). Gelles and Edfeldt (1986) compared
their 1980 Swedish survey only with the 1975 National Family Violence Survey.
They concluded that a smaller percentage of parents were spanking their children
in Sweden than in the United States, but that there were no significant
differences in child abuse rates.
It would have been more appropriate, however, to compare their 1980 Swedish
survey with the 1985 National Family Violence Survey in the USA (Straus &
Gelles, 1986), which reported a 47% lower rate of child abuse in the United
States than in 1975. For one thing, the 1980 Swedish survey was closer to
the 1985 USA survey in its method, because both used telephone interviews.
In contrast, the 1975 USA survey used face-to-face interviews. Table 1 gives
the percentage of Swedish and United States parents reporting the use of
various forms of physical aggression in both national surveys in the United
States and the national survey in Sweden. In contrast to Gelles & Edfeldt
(1986), we report whether the Swedish rate was significantly different from
the mean USA rate from both the 1975 and the 1985 surveys. This approach
represents a compromise on the issue of which USA survey is the most appropriate
comparison, and it assumes that the 1980 rates in the USA might have been
halfway between the 1975 and the 1985 rates.
See Table 1
As can be seen, significantly fewer Swedish parents spanked or hit their
child with an object, compared to USA parents. Nonetheless, 27% of Swedish
parents reported spanking or slapping their child in the past year, reflecting
imperfect compliance with the law. In contrast, most of the more serious
types of physical aggression occurred more often in Sweden one year after
passing the anti-spanking law than they did in the United States. The rate
of beating a child up was three times as high in Sweden as in the United
States, the rate of using a weapon was twice as high, and the overall rate
of Very Severe Violence was 49% higher in Sweden than the United States average
from the 1975 and 1985 surveys. Except for weapon usage, all of these differences
were significantly different using a test of differences between proportions
(Downie & Heath, 1974, chap. 13), p < .05. In addition, the rate of
pushing, grabbing, or shoving was 39% higher in Sweden than the average rate
in the United States, p < .001. Thus, the rate of spanking was significantly
lower in Sweden than in the United States, but the rate of other forms of
physical aggression, including child abuse, was significantly higher in Sweden
than in the United States.
Because there were so few published studies with relevant empirical data,
we also included an unpublished field study by Haeuser (1988) and sought
additional data from Swedish sources. As co-founder of EPOCH-USA, an organization
advocating the banning of all corporal punishment in the United States, Haeuser
(1988) explicitly wanted to "promote positive visibility of this Swedish
law in the U.S. and garner U.S. support for the possibility of promoting
U.S. parenting norms which avoid physical punishment" (p. 2). Her paper was
based on her 1981 and 1988 field visits to Sweden, using extensive interviews
of 7 parents and 60 personnel in government, health and human services, and
In the summary, she concluded, "Most, if not all, believe the law has not
affected the incidence of child abuse" (p. iii). Specifically, she reported
that concerns about sexual abuse and youth gang violence had superseded concerns
about physical child abuse by 1988. She also reported that she observed toddlers
and young children often hitting their parents in her 1988 visit.
According to her, "In 1981 both parents and professionals agreed that parents
had not . . . found constructive alternatives to physical punishment [within
the two years since the law was passed]. For most parents the alternative
was yelling and screaming at their children, and some believed this was equally,
perhaps more, destructive" (p. 22). Haeuser went on to report that most Swedish
parents had developed firmer discipline techniques by 1988.
Haeuser (1988) concluded that the child abuse rate was lower in Sweden than
in the USA based on Swedish police statistics of 6.5 cases of physical child
abuse per 1000 children in 1986. Haeuser compared this to a "U. S. rate of
9.2 to 10.7" per 1000 (Haeuser, 1988, p. 34), but acknowledged, "Since the
Swedish police data omits child abuse cases known to social services but
not warranting police intervention, the actual Swedish incidence rate is
probably higher" (p. 34).
However, the American survey that she cited (National Center on Child Abuse
and Neglect [NCCAN], 1988) indicated that the basis of the rate of 9.2 or
10.7 per 1000 differed from the Swedish police statistic in two ways. First,
the USA rate included sexual and emotional abuse as well as physical abuse.
Second, the USA rate included not only cases known to police, but also cases
known to at least one professional across a wide range of occupations, including
those in child protection services, public health, education (schools, daycare
centers), hospitals, mental health, and social services. If limited to only
physical abuse, the USA rate was only 4.9 or 5.7 known to at least one of
these professionals, depending upon the definition of physical child abuse.
If limited to all three kinds of abuse known specifically to police or sheriffs,
the USA rate was only 2.2 per 1000 (NCCAN, 1988).
The most relevant statistics we have obtained from Sweden are police-record
trends in physical abuse of children under 7 years of age (Wittrock, 1992,
1995). Those records showed a 489% increase in the child abuse rate from
1981 to 1994 (see Figure 1). The same police records also indicated a 672%
increase in assaults by minors against minors (under 15 in Sweden) from 1981
to 1994 (see Figure 2).
Discussion and Conclusions
Although the Swedish anti-spanking law was intended to reduce child abuse,
the best empirical study since then indicated that the rate of child abuse
in Sweden was 49% higher than in the United States one year after the
anti-spanking law was passed. Does this mean that the anti-spanking law increased
the rate of physical child abuse in Sweden? Deley's (1988) retrospective
data indicates that the Swedish physical child abuse rate was 21% of the
USA rate in the 1960s and 1970s. This suggests that the anti-spanking law
not only failed to achieve its goal of reducing child abuse, but that the
child abuse rate increased from 21% to 149% of the equivalent USA rate, a
seven-fold increase relative to the decreasing rate in the United States.
We doubt that the increase was actually that substantial, because Deley used
a retrospective measure with a small unrepresentative sample. Nonetheless,
the available evidence suggests that a sizeable increase in the Swedish child
abuse rate occurred around the time of the 1979 anti-spanking law. The other
studies indicate no changes in attitudes about corporal punishment nor in
child homicides due to the 1979 law.
Was the apparent increase in the Swedish child abuse rate only a temporary
increase following their anti-spanking law? More recent data on Swedish child
abuse rates would help answer that question. One piece of subsequent data
was the 6.5 cases of physical child abuse per 1,000 children in official
1986 Swedish police statistics, which was substantially higher than the 2.2
per 1,000 known to police or sheriffs in the USA. The other available evidence
is the sharp increase in physical child abuse in Swedish police records from
1981 through 1994, along with a similar sharp increase in certain assaults
Why might Sweden experience an increasing child abuse rate and an increase
in assaults by minors after outlawing corporal punishment? Haeuser's (1988)
description of some parental frustration and yelling in 1981 might indicate
an increased risk of escalation to abuse at that time. This is reminiscent
of Baumrind's (1973) observation of permissive parents. Compared to authoritative
and authoritarian parents, permissive parents were the most likely to report
"explosive attacks of rage in which they inflicted more pain or injury upon
the child than they had intended. . . . Permissive parents apparently became
violent because they felt that they could neither control the child's behavior
nor tolerate its effect upon themselves" (Baumrind, 1973, p. 35). Permissive
parents used spanking less than did either authoritative or authoritarian
parents. So it could be that the prohibition of all spanking eliminates a
type of mild spanking that prevents further escalation of aggression within
discipline incidents (see Patterson's  coercive family process). Haeuser's
(1988) report suggests that Swedish parents later developed new, firm discipline
responses that reduced escalations to yelling and possibly to child abuse.
But adequate data on the resulting child abuse rates are lacking.
In conclusion, the available Swedish data indicate that we cannot reduce
child abuse just by mandating that parents stop using corporal punishment.
Parents also need new, effective techniques to replace corporal punishment
if it is to be outlawed. It is even possible that mild corporal punishment
may play an important role in preventing escalation to abuse for some parents.
The other surprise is that there has been so little empirical evaluation
of the effects of Sweden's anti-spanking law. Perhaps it has seemed so obvious
that eliminating parental spanking would reduce the child abuse rate that
people have felt that no evaluation was needed. If so, this summary of available
evidence should shake us out of our premature complacency. The role of parental
discipline responses in preventing aggression in parent and child is surprisingly
complex (Grusec & Goodnow, 1994; Patterson, 1982; Snyder & Patterson,
1995). We need better research to understand the complexities involved in
parental discipline, including its relationship to child abuse. We need to
discriminate effective from counterproductive forms of discipline responses,
including the role of different forms of corporal punishment in increasing
or decreasing the risk of child abuse. We also need better evaluations of
policies designed to change parental discipline, given that the effects of
the Swedish anti-spanking law seem to have had exactly the opposite effect
of its intention, at least in the short term.
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Prevalence Rates of Various Forms of
Physical Child Abuse in the United States and Sweden
Type of Violence
or hit with fist
||Hit with an
with a weapon
||Used a weapon
Violence (4, 6-8)
the United States this item referred to attempted or completed hits. In Sweden,
the item referred only to completed hits. The 1975 and 1980 surveys are taken
from Gelles & Edfeldt (1986) and the 1985 survey from Straus & Gelles
*p <.05, 2-tailed t-test of proportions, comparing the combined USA samples
with the Swedish sample.
***p < .001, same test.
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