Methods: This study uses cross-sectional data from 56 countries from the fourth and fifth rounds of UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), which were collected between 2009 and 2017. MICS collects data on issues related to women and children and is designed to be comparable across countries. The analytic sample is 191,188 children aged 3 to 4. Socioemotional development is measured using the sum of three items: the child gets along well with other children; the child kicks, bites, or hits other children or adults (reverse coded); and the child gets distracted easily (reverse-coded). The spanking variable is modified from the Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scale and indicates whether in the past month anyone in the household spanked, hit or slapped a child on the bottom with their bare hand. The relationship between spanking and children’s socioemotional development is examined using multilevel modeling to account for country- and household-level clustering and to allow the slope of spanking to vary between countries. Linear models are also analyzed separately by country, adjusting for multiple testing. Models control for child, family, and household characteristics.
Results: Overall, in the past month, 42% of children were spanked, or reside in a household with another child who was spanked. Multilevel modeling indicates that, on average, spanking in the household is associated with lower socioemotional development of young children (β = -0.095, p < .001). Linear regression models by country show that 22 countries have a negative relationship between spanking and socioemotional development, 34 countries have a null relationship, and no countries have a positive relationship.
Conclusions and Implications: Spanking is common in countries worldwide, and the association of spanking and child well-being is either negative or null across all countries in this study. Given that the majority of children worldwide experience spanking, even small effect sizes with negative behavioral outcomes have harmful implications when considered at the population-level. Findings suggest that spanking is potentially harmful for children on a global scale. Thus far, 53 countries in the world have banned spanking. This study suggests that policies to reduce spanking may enhance the socioemotional development of children.