Category Archives: The Family: A Global Perspective

Corporal Punishment: Spanking, Slapping, Kicking, Biting, Scratching, Pinching

Corporal Punishment–a term referring to spanking, slapping, kicking, biting, scratching, or pinching another person (typically from a parent to a child).

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Around 95% of all children in the US have received corporal punishment at some point in their lives. Preschoolers are the most likely age group to receive corporal punishment and to receive it on a consistent basis (in fact around age 4, about 95% of those children are hit/struck at least once during the year). As children age, parents are more likely to use other discipline measures such as using rewards or consequences such as taking items away or grounding.

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Naturally there are loads of research papers out there on this perennial topic (type in any of the key phrases to scholar.google.com to find them).

Three good (and differing) articles are: Ellison and Bradshaw’s (2009) article on religious beliefs, sociopolitical ideology, and attitudes towards corporal punishment, Gershoff’s (2010) more harm than good article, and Landsford’s (2010) article on cultural differences with corporal punishment.

Perhaps because corporal punishment is so prevalent within the US, or perhaps because Americans feel they have a right to choose how to discipline their child, most people in the US argue that corporal punishment should be legal, with little to no interference from the government (until abuse starts). In fact many US parents (and people in general) feel that without spanking their child, their child will grow up to be hoodlums.

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Of course what the literature shows is that those who use corporal punishment are much more likely have children who grow up to hit others (as that’s what they’ve been taught to do when someone does something they do not approve of) (see Gershoff 2002 for more information on children’s aggression stemming from being spanked).

So far, the debate in the US has centered around the parents’ rights to discipline. But do children have rights? Should children have the right to not feel physical pain from the people who are supposed to love them the most and to whom they have to entrust with their lives and development?

Corporal punishment is a slippery slope between trying to achieve quick behavioral changes in your child and abusing your child; the line can be very thin and grey.

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Sweden, a country in Europe, has a law prohibiting the use of corporal punishment. Durrant–a widely known parenting researcher states that amongst children under five–in the US there were 723 children killed via child abuse, while only 3 in Sweden. A typical response would be because those who use corporal punishment are more likely to abuse their child (potentially killing them) than those who don’t use corporal punishment.

According to the Kids Count Data Center, Indiana, where I live, had 2,451 child abuse cases in 2010 alone (click on the link for other states).

Despite the US having more children than Sweden, Sweden still has (and historically has had) a lower rate of child abuse (based on the per capita basis). Perhaps creating children’s rights and emphasizing that children have a right to live without feeling physical pain (much like adults get to experience–since hitting an adult is called assault and is a felony), the US may have less child abuse cases.

If you need more information on spanking, please feel free to write a comment.

Average Age at First Marriage

People are often curious about when they are supposed to get married. Other people then respond–Whenever you want! Whenever you’re ready!

But has that always been the case?

Using US statistics, infoplease.com states that in 2010, the average age at first marriage for men was 28.2 while the average age for women was 26.1.

In 1990 the average age was 26.1 for men and 23.9 for women. That’s about two years less for both men and women.

The numbers continue to drop until the 1950s, when they reached an all time low (for the modern era) with men marrying on average at age 22.8 and women at 20.3.

However, then the numbers tend to shoot back up. For example, in 1890 the average man married for the first time at age 26.1 and women at 22.0 (about the average age for men and women 100 years later!).

So why the flux of age when marrying?

Currently both men and women are attending colleges and universities and choosing to delay marriage by at least four years. Many of whom state that they want to find a job and settle in before marrying, hence waiting until their late 20s for men and mid-twenties for women.

In the 1950s though, people weren’t attending colleges and universities in the same numbers as they are today. In fact, many women did not higher education, choosing instead to be a stay at home wife or mother. Why? Because this was an era where families could support each other off of one income. Why? Because the industrial revolution had taken off, with a flurry of high paying, lower educated jobs–compared to today where the higher paying jobs require higher educations.

So why delay marriage in the 1890s? Well, the industrial revolution hadn’t yet hit. A single person couldn’t make enough money to support a spouse and children. In fact, in this era, it wasn’t uncommon for children to be working–either in the fields or in the factories. So both men and women had to work in order to support themselves, hence delaying marriage.

Rate My Professors

Every semester I have my students share with me their thoughts on the class. We typically do this a little before midterms, a few weeks after midterms, and at the end of the semester. This gives me a good gauge on what the students think about the course, and I try to tailor the course to suit their needs, since each class is different and has different learning objectives.

But I always wonder if students feel pressure to say positive things about me, since they know I’ll be reading what they’re writing, even though they don’t write their name on their critique of the course.

Rate My Professors is a great website that students use to tell incoming students about what a professor is like on different scales, such as Overall Quality, Helpfulness, Clarity, Easiness, and Hotness (because it’s important to know how attractive the professor is apparently). Professors can look themselves up on here to see what students are really saying about them, since it’s all anonymous. The only caveat is that they don’t have to use this resource to rate you, so you may not be on there. Search yourself and find out! And then change accordingly.

Gender Roles and Power

One of the most common arguments husbands and wives have is “who is going to clean up this mess?” The division of household labor plays a role in how couples get along and manage their home.

Most of the research on the division of labor discusses how women today are working more but still doing most of the household chores. To entice a new conversation, I had my students read two academic journal articles–one about the macro-level influences and the other about father equality.

Fuwa (2004) reviewed data on 22 countries, taking a macro approach towards the issues of household chores. In other words, while previous research has focused on the couple, Fuwa contends that macro level effects are convincing people to do household chores. Macro meaning society, politics, community, and religious views shape, contribute, and encourage people to do household chores, not just the individual couple. Specifically, Fuwa demonstrates that macro-level influences such as how egalitarian a country is, as well as its economic development, female labor-force participation, gender norms, and welfare states effect who does more household chores.

Wells and Sarkadi (2012) talk about Sweden in relation to gender power, also from a macro level (a country which Fuwa, as well as Wells & Sarkadi, cite as one of the most egalitarian countries in the world). Wells and Sarkadi argue that there are many barriers to father involvement, even when a country has parental leave, citing that the work place, maternal gatekeeping, and finances all encourage fathers to continue working, while encouraging mothers to use the paid parental leave. Additionally Wells and Sarkadi discuss the Swedish Child Health Centers, where nearly all Swedish children between 0-6 go to have regular health check-ups and where parents go to learn parenting advice. However, they argue that since mothers form relationships with the nurses during the infant’s first year (since the mother is at home breastfeeding and therefore taking the child to the health center), mothers continue to be more knowledgeable about their child’s health and feel more comfortable taking their child to the nurse, compared to fathers. This, from the start of birth, starts disconnecting fathers from their child due to the biological factor of breastfeeding, which fathers can’t take part in directly, leaving fathers to feel like a secondary parent.

In other words, gender roles and power in relationships are dynamic and change, not only by the couple, but also by how the society, government, religious organizations, politics, community and other macro-level institutions affect families.

Perspective Family Change Perspective vs the Family Decline Perspective

The field of Family Science has been debating and still is debating whether or not the family, as an institution, is going through a dramatic change or if the institution is in a decline.

People are delaying marriage, putting school and work ahead of creating a family, allowing divorces to happen more easily and more frequently, permitting children to be raised in single parent households, and to have an increase in the number of people who cohabit (as opposed to marry).

Two academic articles that discuss this topic are:  Popenoe (1993) who emphasizes the family decline perspective, while Sweeny (2002) argues the family change perspective. Both articles attack the family from an economic perspective.

Basically what the two terms amount to is political rhetoric: The right side (conservatives) claim that the family is in a state of decline–that is, since people are delaying marriages, cohabiting, having children outside of marriage, etc that the family is not in a good place and must be brought back to its “traditional” ideals–aka the 1950s model of the family, while the left side (liberals) state that the family is changing. These people argue the same facts as the family decline perspective, except they state that it’s ok that people aren’t living like they did in the 1950s. That it’s ok that there is more out-of-wedlock births and cohabitation–that that’s just a normal part of the cycle, citing that prior to  the 1950s, families lived in a much different structure than they did in the 1950s and that they do today.

This has led many to state that calling the institution “changing” or “declining” doesn’t really matter, as both articles discussed similar “facts.” and therefore refer to the argument as semantics, a matter of subjectivity and political rhetoric.

Other academic sources on the topics include:

Brooks, C. (2002). Religious influence and the politics of family decline concern: Trends, sources, and US political behavior. American Sociological Review, 191-211.

Chen, C., & Lin, H. L. (2008). Examining Taiwan’s Paradox of Family Decline with a Household-based Convoy. Social Indicators Research87(2), 287-305.

Like this post if it’s helpful. If it’s not, message the post, and I’ll get more elaborate with the issues.

Student Evaluations of Instruction: When are Enduring First Impressions Formed?

Laws, Apperson, Buchert, and Bregman (2010) wrote an article in the North American Journal of Psychology on undergraduate students’ perceptions of their psychology professors in order to see if student evaluation scores on the professor and the class as a whole were determined at the outset of the class (day 1 and week 1 vs end of the semester evaluation scores).

They concluded that students form a perception about the professor on the first night of class that remains true through the end of the semester.

There are several issues with this article however.

To name just a few as examples:

In their method section, Laws et al. writes that they have 384 undergraduates from 14 psychology courses participating. With this information, they fail to go into greater depth. For example, are some of those undergraduates enrolled in multiple psychology courses and therefore the same person is filling out evaluations on the different psychology professors? Are the psychology professors teaching multiple courses? Also, the method section never discusses what time of day the class meets, how often the courses meet during a week and for how long the classes are (i.e. a class that meets at 10am three times a week for 50 minutes may be different from a class that meets at 6pm once a week for three hours, even though the information given is the same and taught by the same professor).

Also, this study doesn’t generalize to others, since it is only data from psychology courses and presumably at one university (as it’s never mentioned that the undergrads come from multiple universities). Therefore, the scores only apply to those psychology students at that university, since universities and even other colleges within a university could have different cultures and therefore score differently.

To top this all off, the authors state that their big conclusion is that students form perceptions of the professor that remain true through the end of the semester. In other words, students judge the prof on the first day of class and at the end of the semester score the professor in a very similar way. This issue with this is that they don’t account for professor consistency. That is, a professor on night one may teach the exact same way the during the whole semester and so since the teaching style is the same, the first night of class perception is the same as at the end of the semester.

A better study would be to see if a professor taught in a certain way on night 1 and if they changed their teaching style dramatically and then saw if the students still rated the professor the same way.