Article Text

Corporal punishment bans and physical fighting in adolescents: an ecological study of 88 countries
  1. Frank J Elgar1,
  2. Peter D Donnelly2,
  3. Valerie Michaelson3,
  4. Geneviève Gariépy1,
  5. Kira E Riehm4,
  6. Sophie D Walsh5,
  7. William Pickett2
  1. 1 Institute for Health and Social Policy, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  2. 2 Department of Public Health Sciences, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
  3. 3 School of Religion, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
  4. 4 Department of Mental Health, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  5. 5 Department of Criminology, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel
  1. Correspondence to Dr Frank J Elgar; frank.elgar{at}


Objective To examine the association between corporal punishment bans and youth violence at an international level.

Design Ecological study of low-income to high-income 88 countries.

Setting School-based health surveys of students.

Participants 403 604 adolescents.

Interventions National corporal punishment bans.

Primary outcome measure Age-standardised prevalence of frequent physical fighting (ie, 4+ episodes in the previous year) for male and female adolescents in each country.

Results Frequent fighting was more common in males (9.9%, 95% CI 9.1% to 10.7%) than females (2.8%, 95% CI 2.5% to 3.1%) and varied widely between countries, from 0.9% (95% CI 0.8% to 0.9%) in Costa Rican females to 34.8% (95% CI 34.7 to 35.0) in Samoan males. Compared with 20 countries with no ban, the group of 30 countries with full bans (in schools and in the home) experienced 69% the rate of fighting in males and 42% in females. Thirty-eight countries with partial bans (in schools but not in the home) experienced less fighting in females only (56% the rate found in countries without bans).

Conclusions Country prohibition of corporal punishment is associated with less youth violence. Whether bans precipitated changes in child discipline or reflected a social milieu that inhibits youth violence remains unclear due to the study design and data limitations. However, these results support the hypothesis that societies that prohibit the use of corporal punishment are less violent for youth to grow up in than societies that have not.

  • public health
  • community child health
  • child protection
  • epidemiology

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  • Contributors FJE, PDD and WP conceptualised and designed the study, wrote up the results and revised the manuscript. FJE, GG and KER cleaned and analysed the data and wrote sections of the manuscript. VM and SW reviewed the literature, interpreted the findings and wrote sections of the manuscript.

  • Funding This work was supported by grants from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR; grant numbers MOP133519, MOP341188), Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (grant number 435-2014-2160) and Canada Research Chairs programme.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Ethics approval This survey was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the Faculty of Medicine, McGill University.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Original microdata files can be requested from the HBSC Data Management Centre ( and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (

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