Race, social class, and child abuse: Content and strength of medical professionals’ stereotypes


21 March 2019

Black and poor children are overrepresented at every stage of the child welfare system, from suspicion of abuse to substantiation. Focusing on stereotypes as a source of bias that leads to these disparities, the current study examines the content and strength of stereotypes relating race and social class to child abuseas viewed by medical professionals. Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals (Study 1: N = 53; Study 2: N = 40) were recruited in local hospitals and online through snowball sampling. Study 1 identified stereotype content by asking participants to list words associated with the stereotype that either (a) Black or (b) poor children are more likely to be abused by their parents, and responses were organized into construct groups. Study 2 determined stereotype strength by asking participants to rate how strongly the constructs generated in Study 1 related to either the race-abuse or social class-abuse stereotype. The content of stereotypes linking child abuse to Black or poor children are confounded, with approximately half the constructs shared by both stereotypes. Of the 10 shared constructs, only “Stressed” and “Neglect” differed in strength, with both significantly more strongly related to the social class-abuse than race-abuse stereotype, all ts(36–37) ≤ −2.23, ps ≤ .03, Cohen’s ds ≥ .71. This research documents the existence, content, and strength of stereotypes that link race and social class to child abuse. These stereotypes have the potential to lead to medical misdiagnosis of abuse for Black and poor children.


Cynthia J.NajdowskiKimberly M.Bernstein


Child Abuse & Neglect Volume 86, December 2018, Pages 217-222

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