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Use of Physical Punishment Declines Across All Socioeconomic Groups

Use of Physical Punishment Declines Across All Socioeconomic Groups

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A study in the December 2016 issue of Pediatrics, “Socioeconomic Gaps in Parents’ Discipline Strategies from 1988-2011​,” (published online Nov. 14) investigated changes over time in parents’ discipline strategies.

Discipline strategies are a main component of socioemotional interactions and include physical punishments such as spanking, and non-physical discipline techniques such as time-outs. Researchers examined four national studies of kindergarten-age children (approximately 5 years of age) conducted between 1988 and 2011.

The studies provided information about caregivers’ socioeconomic status as well as typical discipline techniques. The findings suggest that parents’ use of physical punishment has declined substantially while parents’ use of nonphysical discipline strategies has increased substantially across all socioeconomic groups. They found that the share mothers at the median income level who endorse physical discipline decreased from 46% to 21% over the study period, and the same share endorsing time-outs increased from 41% to 81%. The gap in endorsing physical discipline between mothers at the 90th versus 10th income percentile remained stable over time, whereas the same gap in endorsing time-outs decreased significantly between 1998 and 2011.

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Although endorsement of physical discipline has declined across all groups, the researchers note that nearly one-third of mothers with the lowest incomes still endorse physically disciplining kindergarten-age children, with almost one-quarter doing so in the last week. They suggest these results remind us that education is still needed to further reduce reliance on physical punishment and increase use of non-physical discipline techniques.

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