Psychological Reports, 1990, 66, 823-828.

O Psychological Reports 1990

VIOLENT TACTICS I N FAMILY CONFLICT RELATIVE TO FAMILIAL AND ECONOMIC FACTORS ' PEGGY J. CANTRELL, MICHAEL F. CARRICO, JANIE N. FRANKLIN, AND HENRY J. GRUBB East Tennes~eeState University Summary.-A study was conducted to examine the social, economic, and family process factors which may be associated with families' use of violent tactics in conflict within an homogeneous population in the Appalachian region of southwestern Virginia. The primary hypothesis stated that economic conditions as set by the employment status of parents would be a significant factor in predicting use of violence in the resolution of family conflict. The study employed a questionnaire modeled after that used in a national study of family violence conducted by Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz in 1980 with additional items developed to assess regional Family processes and economic conditions. 114 boys and 161 girls ranging in age from 15 to 17 yr. participated. Statistical analysis confirmed the major hypothesis: in families where the father was unemployed, there was greater than expected frequency of reported violent interactions. Additional findings included associations between previous generation's abuse and use of violent interactions as well as sex of subject and use of violent interactions.

Annually in the United States, approximately 6,000,000 men, women, and children are victims of severe physical attacks at the hands of other family members, identifying "the American family as one of our country's most violent institutions" (Gelles, 1980, p. 878). Previous research suggests that Americans condone acts of aggression against child and adult f a d y members and think it is acceptable for one family member to hit another under some circumstances (Stark & McEvoy, 1970). The social-psychological model of family violence assumes that violence and abuse can be understood best by a critical analysis of the environmental factors which have an influence on the family and the family's response to external factors (Gelles, 1980). The underlying causes of violence are viewed as not intrinsic but rather derived from the interaction between environmental and familial factors which act upon the individual in such a way as to elicit violent responses (Gil, 1975). Routine processes such as family interaction and organization patterns are seen as variables which contribute to violence in confict tactics within the larger outside sociocultural complex. Theoretical approaches which examine family interaction patterns, stress, and the transmission of violence from one generation to another are also found within this model (Gelles & Straus, 1979). 'Reprints are available from Peggy . Cantrell, Ph.D., Box 21970A, Department of Psychology, East Tennessee State University, Jo son City, TN 37614.




Gelles and Straus (1979) attempted to identify unique factors likely to become determinants of violence within the family social setting. These factors included the ascribed roles for family members, age and sex dfferences among family members, and stress. Although family violence has been more prevalent in lower socioeconomic levels, studies using unbiased sampling methods have indicated that family violence crosses socioeconomic, religious, ethnic, and racial lines, though linear relationships have not been found (Getty & Humphreys, 1981; Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980). Straus, et al. (1980) reported a higher incidence of violence in families without religious preference and further determined that violence is more prevalent in larger families and in larger cities than in smaller families and in rural areas. Economic factors such as unemployment have also been correlated with family violence. Voydanoff (1984) observed that income loss was associated with psychophysiological distress and marital and family disputes. The purpose of the present study was to investigate possible relationships between violent tactics in family conflict and organismic and demographic variables such as sex, birth order, family size, religiosity, parents' employment status, parents' education and violence between maternal grandparents and between paternal grandparents. Our major hypothesis is that family economic conditions as set by the employment status of parents should be a significant factor in reported use of violence in family conflict resolution. ~ n c i l l a r yhypotheses stated that previous generation abuse and family size should be significant factors in reported use of family violence.

METHOD Subjects The subjects were the entire population of high school sophomores within a rural/smd town county in the central Appalachian region of southwestern Virginia. The majority of the 275 subjects (114 boys, 161 girls) were Caucasian (98.9%) and ranged in age from 15 to 17 yr. Materials The materials consisted of paper-and-pencil questionnaires comprised of a demographic inventory and a conflict tactics scale modeled after that developed by Straus (1979). The demographic inventory was constructed of questions which pertained to the subject's family, including religiosity, family size, family economics and family interaction patterns. Also included was a section that dealt with previous generational f a d y violence. The conflict tactics scale was comprised of items arranged in ascending order from least violent to most violent interactions. Reported family interactions were analyzed in four independent categories: verbal reasoning, verbal abuse, physical violence, and physical abuse following the guidelines of Straus (1979).


Procedure Subjects completed questionnaires under the supervision of the principal investigators during regularly scheduled high school class meetings. All subjects were given an informed consent form which they read, signed, and returned to the investigators. The school administration and school district had previously given its permission and endorsement of the research. The volunteers were then given questionnaires and verbal instructions. Signed statements of informed consent were collected separately from the questionnaires to ensure confidentiality. The questionnaires took approximately 45 minutes to complete.

The frequencies of use of conflict tactics within each category of verbal reasoning, verbal abuse, physical violence, and physical abuse were reported for the following dyads: parent to child, child to parent, sibling to sibling, and parent to parent. Although subjects' responses were recorded in four categories, the analyses focused on physical violence and physical abuse with physical violence defined as behaviors that cause pain in another and physical abuse defined as behaviors likely to cause injury or death. Spanking was not included in the analysis since it is a common disciplinary technique. Assumptions regarding homogeneity of variance, normality and kurtosis were tested and violated by the data, so nonparametric statistics were performed. TABLE 1 REPORTED PHYSICAL ABUSEBY PARENTTO CHILDBY FATHER'SEMPLOYMENT STATUS( N = 258) -

Employment Status

Subjects' Report Abuse

No Abuse Employed Unemployed Totals










41 15

47 9




43 258

xj2= 4.38, p c . 0 5 Statistical analysis confirmed the hypothesis that family economic conditions as measured by the employment status of parents would be a significant contributor to use of violence in family conflict. In 43 cases in which the father was unemployed, 34% or 15 of the subjects reported parent to child abuse; whereas, in 214 cases in which the father was employed, 19% of the subjects reported parent-to-child abuse (x,' = 4.84, p < .05). Source income was not significantly related to use of violent tactics in family conflict; see Table 1. As expected, use of violent tactics in confhcts between parent and child



Previous Generation No Abuse Maternal Abuse No Yes Totals Paternal Abuse No Yes Totals

Subjects' Report Abuse





186 15 201

181 20

46 10 56

51 5

188 13 201

184 17


51 5

9 56



232 25 257


235 22 257


was reported more often in families where there were also reports of violence between maternal grandparents (x,' = 4.27, p < .05). Other significant relationships with incidence of parent-to-child abuse included subject's sex: 32% of the boys reported use of violent tactics in family conflict compared to only 14% of the girls (X,Z = 10.10, p < .01). Violent family interactions directed from parent to child were also more frequently reported in larger families than in smaller f a d e s (x,2 = 9.21, p

Violent tactics in family conflict relative to familial and economic factors.

A study was conducted to examine the social, economic, and family process factors which may be associated with families' use of violent tactics in con...
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