Ethnicity, income, and parenting contexts of physical punishment in a national sample of families with young children

Child Maltreat. 2001 May;6(2):118-29. doi: 10.1177/1077559501006002004.


Nearly half of U.S. parents use physical punishment for child discipline. Although some studies relate physical punishment and later dysfunction, others suggest that its effects depend on the context in which it is used. The authors analyzed data from the Commonwealth Fund Survey of Parents With Young Children, a national sample of 2,017 parents with children younger than 3. Parents reported their use of spanking, five other disciplinary practices, and four nurturing interactions. The authors used cluster analysis to define four groups of parents with distinct patterns of discipline and nurturing. Two groups with above-average use of spanking shared a high prevalence of parent depressive symptoms and a low level of nurturing but had markedly different demographic profiles and use of nonphysical punishment. Parents who used average levels of spanking made frequent use of nonphysical disciplinary strategies and had high levels of nurturing interactions. Parents who reported below-average spanking had relatively low levels of both disciplinary and nurturing interactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child Abuse / ethnology*
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Child, Preschool
  • Demography
  • Ethnic Groups*
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Parenting / ethnology*
  • Parents
  • Punishment*
  • Social Environment*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology