Child Maltreatment: A Function of Class?


Linsey Rettew

Date of Award


Degree Type

Archival Copy

First Advisor

Vincent Ferraro


The maltreatment of children has been a sensitive subject in our society because children are increasingly viewed as a very vulnerable population. Children are at high risk for abuse and neglect as they are typically unable to advocate for and protect themselves. According to General Strain theory, families of lower socioeconomic status tend to experience more strain caused by a lack of income and resources to support their families. I investigated whether this higher level of strain causes a greater likelihood of using deviant coping mechanisms in the form of child maltreatment. This hypothesis was only supported when socioeconomic status was measured using the primary caregiver's level of education, and maltreatment was measured as neglect. Another aspect of socioeconomic status that can cause a discrepancy between levels of reported maltreatment among different levels of the social strata is the power of class in our society. The findings suggest that General Strain Theory can be applied for neglect only. They also suggest that, since the majority of all respondents are Black and of low socioeconomic status, that there is a bias in the data creating the illusion that only lower status people neglect their children. Many factors contribute to those of lower socioeconomic status being far more visible to mandatory reporters and being targeted more than wealthier families. The results cannot be definitive and generalizable as there is not enough information on those with more wealth. I conducted my analyses using the LONGSCAN dataset which is a longitudinal study conducted between the years 1991 and 2012. The study followed over 1,300 children from infancy to age 18 to investigate risk factors for and incidence of child maltreatment.

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