Spanking, Hugs and Conservative Christians

Sociologists have consistently reported that it can sometimes hurt growing up in a fundamentalist Christian family. Based on survey data, these researchers suggest that conservative Protestants are perhaps twice as likely to use corporal punishment than other parents.

Well, that's only half the story--the bad half, says Princeton sociologist Bradford Wilcox, who spent the past six months studying parenting and religious beliefs as a Civitas Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Wilcox agrees that religious conservatives don't spare the rod. But neither do they spare hugs and kisses. His survey research shows that fundamentalist and evangelical Christians are more than twice as likely to hug and praise their young children as parents who aren't religious conservatives. He and sociologist John Bartkowski also have found that conservative Protestants are far less likely to say they yell at their kids, according to their analysis of the National Survey of Families and Households conducted by the University of Wisconsin, which included interviews with 4,458 parents of children 18 and younger.

In the poll, parents were asked how often they spanked, hugged, praised and yelled at their children. Other questions measured the extent of their religious conservatism, such as whether they believed that everything in the Bible is literally true.

Wilcox said his research stands as a corrective to a growing body of scholarship that depicts conservative Protestant parents as abusive and emotionally distant. It's a view epitomized by a presidential address delivered a few years ago by noted theologian and psychologist Donald Capps of the Princeton Theological Seminary to the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. His title: "Religion and Child Abuse: Perfect Together."

"That," Wilcox said, "was incredible." Rather than abuse, Wilcox said he found "a controlled style of discipline, where spanking is used in certain situations but where there is less yelling and where parents are far more expressive in their interactions with their children."

Best and Worst of the Century

The civil rights movement and the increase in women in the work force topped the list of major social changes that Americans said have made life better in the 20th century, while credit cards ranked as the least beneficial social change, according to a national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The chart at right shows how people responded when asked if each of these trends has been a change for the better or for the worse.

Better Worse No difference

Civil rights movement 84% 5% 8%

Women in the workplace 83 10 6

Growth of suburbs 52 21 21

Rock and roll 45 23 27

Legalized abortion 34 42 17

More acceptance of divorce 30 53 13

Widespread credit card use 22 68 7

Note: Percentage with no opinion not shown.

Girls, Boys and Failure

When boys fail in school, they say it's bad luck. But when girls don't do well, they blame themselves, according to a team of psychologists from the University of Notre Dame.

The researchers, headed by David Cole, tracked 807 third- and sixth-graders for three years, interviewing students about their academic competence and whether they felt anxious or depressed. They also collected objective measures of each student's academic performance from their teachers.

They found that young boys tended to overestimate their school performance and ability, compared with how their teachers rated them. Girls, on the other hand, underestimated their own performance, compared with their teachers' assessments.

The expectations gap emerged around fourth grade and increased with each grade level, Cole and his colleagues reported in a recent issue of the academic journal Child Development. By seventh grade, they found, symptoms of depression and anxiety began to appear among those who consistently underestimated themselves.

Boys are more likely than girls to give excuses for bombing a test or assignment--the task was too hard, or they didn't try hard enough or they were the victims of bad luck. But this coping style has a silver lining, Cole said: It helps prevent anxiety and depression.

RESEARCH NOTES

THIS IS ONLY A TEST Quick, America: Does the Earth revolve around the sun, or does the sun revolve around the Earth? When Gallup pollsters asked that question recently, one in five Americans interviewed got it wrong (18 percent) or didn't know (3 percent). (For those in need of the answer, the Earth revolves around the sun.)

FAIR SHARE What percentage of the housework should working husbands and wives do to maintain domestic harmony? Each should do exactly 45.8 percent, according to a team of researchers headed by Chloe Bird of Brown University. Bird surveyed 1,256 men and women and asked them what share of the housework they did and correlated it with their reported psychological well-being and stress. Who does the remaining 8.4 percent? The kids, maids and house guests--or it just goes undone, Bird suggests.