BenHoffman comments on Physical punishment of children: the neglected $3.6 trillion/year? problem - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Paul_Christiano 01 May 2017 12:22:04AM *  17 points [-]

The reported correlations between physical punishment and life outcomes, which underlie the headline $3.6 trillion / year figure, seem unlikely to be causal. I only clicked on the first study, but it made very little effort to control for any of the obvious confounders. (The two relevant controls are mother's education and presence of the father.) The confounding is sufficiently obvious and large that the whole exercise seems kind of crazy. On top of that, as far as I can tell, a causal effect of this size would be inconsistent with adoption studies.

It would be natural to either start with the effect on kids' welfare, which seems pretty easy to think about, or else make a much more serious effort to actually figure out the long-term effects.

Comment author: BenHoffman 01 May 2017 01:11:05AM *  4 points [-]

SlateStarScratchpad claims (with more engagement here) that the literature mainly shows that parents who like hitting their kids or beat them severely do poorly, and that if you control for things like heredity or harsh beatings it’s not obvious that mild corporal punishment is more harmful than other common punishments.

My best guess is that children are very commonly abused (and not just by parents - also by schools), but I don't think the line between physical and nonphysical punishments is all that helpful for understanding the true extent of this.

Comment author: Paul_Christiano 01 May 2017 02:08:32PM 7 points [-]

Scott links to this study, which is more convincing. They measure the difference between "physical mild (slap, spank)" and "physical harsh (use weapon, punch, kick)" punishment, with ~10% of children in the latter category. They consider children of twins to control for genetic confounders, and find something like a 0.2 SD effect on measures of behavioral problems at age 25. There is still confounding (e.g. households where parents beat their kids may be worse in other ways), and the effects are smaller and for rarer forms of punishment, but it is getting somewhere.

Comment author: Julia_Wise 04 May 2017 03:26:30PM 1 point [-]

It's my strong impression that parents are more likely to use harsh punishment when they themselves are more stressed and overwhelmed. I expect this to be a big confounder.