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Gallup Vault: 1950s Nostalgia for Corporal Punishment
Gallup Vault

Gallup Vault: 1950s Nostalgia for Corporal Punishment

In 1954, Gallup asked Americans to reflect on their teenage years and name the most effective form of punishment for "children your age who refused to behave." The top answer, given by 40%, was what the original Gallup news release reported as "whipping" -- encapsulating a variety of responses that included "beating," "shellacking," "spanking," use of the "strap" or "stick," and other forms of punishment. "Taking away privileges" was a distant second (25%), followed by being kept at home -- or, in today's parlance, being grounded (11%).

Looking back to when you were a teenager yourself, what kinds of punishment seemed to work best on children your age who refused to behave?
U.S. adults
Whipping 40
Taking away privileges 25
Being kept at home 11
Given a "good talking to" 8
Made to sit in a corner, sent to their rooms 3
Other 12
No opinion 8
Note: Responses add to more than 100% because of multiple mentions
Gallup, Oct. 15-20, 1954

The question was just one of several Gallup posed to Americans in October 1954 addressing what George Gallup referred to in a related news release as "the upsurge in juvenile delinquency today." While problems with "youth" did not show up as a major public concern in Gallup's data on the most important problem facing the country in the 1950s, there was much national discussion during this era about the extent to which rock 'n' roll, rebellious youth icons like Elvis Presley and James Dean, and horror-themed comic books were contributing to the delinquency of minors.

In line with Americans' regard for the disciplinary powers of "whipping," 55% of adults in the 1954 poll said they thought school officials should have the right to give pupils a "licking." And when asked to name the oldest age at which a child should be spanked, 32% thought this was appropriate through the ages of 12 to 14, and 17% said 15 or older. Just 31% of Americans put the cutoff at 11 or younger.

Gallup has not repeated any of these specific questions in the decades since. However, in June of this year, Gallup found 62% of U.S. parents saying they approved of spanking children in a direct question about the practice, down moderately from 74% in 1946.

Read the original Gallup poll release.

These data can be found in Gallup Analytics.

Read more from the Gallup Vault.

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