Domestic Abuse – is it all about economics?


Can domestic abuse be improved by tackling macro level issues like the gender based wage gap?

Domestic Abuse and Macro Level Risk : An Economist’s Perspective 

Anna Aizer considers two gender based issues in her 2010 paper “The Gender Wage Gap and Domestic Violence.” American Economic Review, 100(4): 1847–59, 2010. She considers economic factors which are not directly related to individual victims and employs a method which seeks to exclude the underlying characteristics of male and female workers in the wage gap. (Some of her analysis does identify the impact of underlying factors.)

She tests an economic theory of bargaining power which predicts that increases in women’s relative power increases bargaining power and lowers levels of violence. Her findings are that :- 

  • There was a relative reduction of 36% in domestic violence hospitalisations for assault  in California from 1990 – 2003 (this is the measure of domestic violence in this paper)
  • In the United States, “reductions in the gender wage gap explain 9% of the decline in domestic violence between 1990 – 2003”.
  • Poor and less educated women are disproportionately affected by domestic violence
  • the relative female labour market is an important factor in all cases of domestic violence even in households where women do not work
  • exposure reduction (ie women are out of the home more if they are employed) does not explain the reductions in domestic violence
  • the evidence is inconsistent with a theory of male backlash whereby violence increases as wages increase as a reaction to a threat to male traditional gender roles.

For some time now I have been developing a methodology to support Community Safety Partnerships to reduce and hone their priorities by directing their limited resources at those crimes or social harms that pose the greatest risk in their local area.

This is looking at macro level risk. However, I have been clear throughout the project that it must sits alongside micro level risk work which looks at how to identify the people who are most vulnerable of becoming offenders (prevention and early intervention approaches) and victims (such as Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) in a domestic abuse context or Anti Social Behaviour Risk Assessment Conference (ASBRAC)).

Domestic Abuse Micro Level Risk Factors – Economic Factors

There are many papers which look at (micro level) risk factors for domestic abuse and have provided foundations for risk assessments such as the widely used DASH (Domestic Abuse Stalking and Harassment), the Metropolitan Police Service Risk Assessment Model for Domestic Violence Cases.

Economic Risk factors have been highlighted “Low income and financial stresses are also a risk factor for involvement in spousal assault (Campbell, 1986). A sudden change in employment status, such as being fired / made redundant, may be associated with increased risk for violence (McNeil, 1987)” MPS Risk Assessment Model for Domestic Violence Cases

In 2004 women in households with an income of less than £10,000 were three and a half times more likely to suffer domestic violence than those living in households with an income of over £20,000, while men were one and a half times more likely. Domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking: Findings from the British Crime Survey, Sylvia Walby and Jonathan Allen (2004) – Home Office Research Study 276.

Since 2004 “The nature of the links between poverty and risk of interpersonal violence [has remained] unclear” Some theories include:

  • Poverty, job losses and the onset of domestic abuse are linked
  • Fleeing violence reduces victims to poverty
  • Lack of access to resources to flee violence
  • Perpetrator desire for power unobtainable through well paid employment
  • Tensions and disputes arise from financial difficulties
  • Domestic violence may lead to poverty due to disrupted employment

Domestic abuse does impact on all classes regardless of income or employment. However it is true both in America and the United Kingdom that the poorest households in society are disproportionately affected. I am not clear from existing research whether the distribution of high risk case is also the same, if anyone can clarify this position, please leave a comment, otherwise, it is my conclusion that to ensure the best targetting of resources, further research is needed.

Domestic abuse Macro / Micro Level Risk Conclusions

Risk is not an either (macro) or (micro) issue. Tackling social harms such as domestic violence and abuse can and perhaps should be tackled at both levels. Here, tackling the gender wage gap could improve the prevalence of intimate violence for all women (by far group suffering the greatest number and impact of incidents as explored here) whilst targeting support at the most vulnerable (eg MARAC) can and does ensure better outcomes for those victims.

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