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07/17/2013 04:00 pm ET

Does Outlawing Spanking Lower The Crime Rate Years Later?

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Spare the rod and lower the crime rate? There is a growing body of data suggesting such a link.

The Charlemagne blog on The Economist’s website explores the question of why violent crime is steadily decreasing in Europe in particular and much of the developed world in general, and concludes that the drop correlates with a similar decrease in the rates of children being spanked.

Numerous studies over the years have found that children who are spanked are more likely to become teens and then adults who are violent. They are also more prone to suffer with psychological problems, abuse drugs and alcohol, and own firearms, some studies have found.

This latest analysis, however, turns the question around and looks at whether NOT spanking a child makes them less likely to be violent -- as measured by rates of crime in countries where the practice has been banned.

The Economist quotes to Christian Pfeiffer, the director of the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony, who notes that the percentage of adults who report they were “raised without any physical punishment at all” was just 26 percent in 1992, and is now triple that, at about 66 percent.

That is because spanking has been made illegal on Germany, as in other European countries. Pfeiffer is tracking crime rates as children who were raised under the new laws grow up. There is already much data from Scandinavian countries, which was the first to ban corporate punishment of school children during the 1950s and 60s, and which outlawed the same by parents between 1979 and 1983, Pfeiffer notes. Crimes rates, gun ownership rates, and prison populations have all fallen in those countries at a sharper rate than in places without such laws.

Which leads to the question of whether this latest data will have any effect across the Atlantic. Ninety percent of American parents say they spank their children, and it is legal to do so in every state but Delaware. This despite the fact that there are long lists of studies that show the negative effects of spanking, and few to none that show it works as a way to teach right from wrong.

There are regions of this country (particularly the Evangelical south) where the practice of corporal punishment is culturally more accepted. Those are the same places where rates of crime, gun ownership and incarceration are highest, the Economist notes.

Would reducing spanking reduce violence here as it has in Europe?

In the view of groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, which does not condone spanking, it certainly couldn't hurt.

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