Study: Childhood physical abuse: Differences by birth cohort
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According to the 2014 General Social Survey on Victimization (GSS), the proportion of those who self-reported having experienced childhood physical abuse was lower among those born between 1980 and 1999 than it was for people born between 1940 and 1979.
Self-reported data on childhood abuse are different from police-reported data, because they include incidents that may not have been reported to police and child protection services.
In this study, people are considered as having experienced physical abuse if they reported that they had been slapped, hit or pushed, grabbed or shoved, or had something thrown at them hard enough to hurt them at least three times before the age of 15. Also included in this definition are those who reported at least one incident of being kicked, punched, choked or burned.
The study "Childhood physical abuse: Differences by birth cohort" examines the factors associated with childhood physical abuse for three birth cohorts: those who were born between 1940 and 1959, between 1960 and 1979, and between 1980 and 1999.
The study also sheds light on the possible consequences of childhood physical abuse on the social integration, trust, and physical and mental health of young adults.
Men are more likely than women to report that they experienced childhood physical abuse
In the most recent birth cohort—those born between 1980 and 1999—13% reported that they experienced physical abuse as a child. This compared with 19% among those who were born between 1940 and 1959, and 21% among those who were born between 1960 and 1979.
In all three birth cohorts, men were more likely than women to report that they experienced childhood physical abuse. Among those who were born between 1940 and 1959, for example, 25% of males reported that they experienced physical abuse, compared with 14% of females.
Other forms of violence are associated with childhood physical abuse
In many cases, childhood physical abuse does not occur in isolation.
Witnessing parental violence, for example, is considered a warning sign that the child might also be a victim of physical abuse.
For example, 18% of individuals aged 15 to 74 reported that they experienced some form of physical violence during childhood. This rate increased to 45% among those who witnessed parental violence one to five times, and to 70% among those who witnessed violence by a parent six times or more.
Sexual abuse is also related to childhood physical abuse. Among those who reported that they were sexually assaulted during childhood, 46% also reported that they suffered from physical abuse.
Fathers are most often reported as the ones responsible for the most serious incident of abuse
Among those who experienced childhood physical abuse, the father was most often reported as the person responsible for the most serious incident of abuse.
The proportion was highest for those born between 1940 and 1959—at over 40%—and dropped to 34% for the most recent cohort.
Conversely, the proportion of those who said their mother was responsible for the most serious incident has increased over successive cohorts. It was 21% for those born prior to 1980 and close to 30% for those born after 1980.
Young adults who have been physically abused as children report lower levels of mental and physical health, and lower levels of trust
Childhood physical abuse is associated with lower levels of physical and mental health, social integration and trust among young adults, particularly among those who experienced the most severe forms of childhood violence.
In this section, "very severe" childhood physical abuse refers to those individuals who reported that they had been kicked, bit, punched, choked, burned or physically attacked in some way more than 10 times before the age of 15.
Among persons aged 15 to 34 who experienced very severe abuse, nearly one-third (31%) had a psychological or health condition that sometimes limited their daily activities, compared with 6% of those who did not experience any physical abuse.
A similar association is observed for physical health. The proportion of the population aged 15 to 34 who said they at least sometimes had difficulty with physical activities increased from 5% if they had experienced no physical abuse in childhood, to 19% if very severe physical child abuse had occurred.
Young adults who experienced very severe childhood physical abuse also had lower levels of confidence in police and the court system, and had a weak sense of belonging to their local community.
Young adults who were physically abused during childhood reported higher rates of victimization during adulthood. For example, 29% of young adults who had been victims of very severe physical child abuse experienced dating violence. This compares with 4% for their counterparts who had not experienced any physical abuse in childhood.
Note to readers
The study examines the factors associated with childhood physical abuse across three birth cohorts: those who were born between 1980 and 1999; between 1960 and 1979; and between 1940 and 1959. For each cohort, this article also explores the relationship to the person responsible for the most serious incident of abuse during childhood, as well as the probability that it was disclosed to someone. This article also examines the association between childhood physical abuse and various indicators of social integration and trust, health and victimization during young adulthood.
This study uses self-reported data from the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians' Safety (Victimization). The target population consists of the non-institutionalized Canadian population aged 15 and over, living in one of the 10 provinces. In this paper, childhood physical abuse is deemed to be present if one or more of the following three variables meet the following minimum cut-offs. "Before age 15, did an adult…": (1) slap you on the face, head or ears or hit you with something hard enough to hurt three times or more; (2) push, grab, shove, or throw something at you hard enough to hurt three times or more; or (3) kick, bite, punch, choke, burn, or physically attack you one time or more.
Readers should note that the results are based on retrospective information provided by survey respondents about what they experienced during childhood. In addition, the links mentioned in this paper must be interpreted as associations rather than as cause-and-effect relationships. Thus, it is important not to interpret the behavioural indicators as consequences of childhood physical abuse. As a result, this paper assesses the strength of relationships, not the causal relationship.
The article "Childhood physical abuse: Differences by birth cohort" is now available in Insights on Canadian Society (75-006-X).
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