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Are Asian-American Parents Less Likely to Spank Their Children?

The Adrian Peterson indictment has America talking about corporal punishment of kids. One study breaks down attitudes about spanking by culture.

The indictment of Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson on child abuse charges spurred headlines about the NFL culture. As details emerged in the following weeks -- Peterson had hit his 4-year-old son with a thin tree branch, he was disciplined the same way as a child -- the conversation broadened to wider issues of culture, with many asking, who condones corporal punishment for children?

In an article for The Society Pages, sociologist Jennifer Lee writes that attitudes about spanking, specifically, actually vary across different cultures. Despite existing stereotypes of "tiger moms" and strict parenting, one recent survey found Asian-American parents are less likely to spank their children than other groups.

Lee cites a 2012 study of 20,000 kindergartners and their parents, in which the majority of American parents said they approved of spanking a child (70%). Across racial groups, nuances in opinions emerge: 89% of Black parents approved, 80% of Hispanic parents, 79% of White parents, and 73% of Asian parents.

"Parental education and socioeconomic status are stronger drivers of parenting strategies than differences in race or culture," Lee writes. "Highly educated, middle-class parents are less likely to use corporal punishment to discipline their children than less-educated, working-class, and poor parents." Here, she argues that immigration plays a role.

Because, Lee writes, of the "hyper-selectivity" of Asian immigration "from countries like India, China, and Korea," those immigrants tend to be more educated than their counterparts who did not immigrate, and therefore, less likely to turn to physical force.

But Lee also points out that Asian parents in the United States tend to use spoken and emotional disapproval to discipline their children. Citing interviews she did with fellow researcher Min Zhou, Lee said that while the children of educated Asian parents weren't spanked, "their parents would verbally express their disappointment or give a stern facial cue that signaled their disapproval," in some cases to a harmful extreme, leaving children feeling "just as powerless and despondent as any physical punishment."