Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Intimate Partner Violence in the Great Recession

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 4:30 PM
Merrick II (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Daniel Schneider, University of California, Berkeley, Sara McLanahan, Princeton University and Kristen Harknett, University of Pennsylvania
We examine the effects of the Great Recession on intimate partner violence. Drawing on longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study combined with Bureau of Labor Statistics data on local area unemployment rates, we assess how household economic stress and macro-economic conditions, including the dramatic shock of the Great Recession, affect violent and controlling behavior in romantic co-residential unions.

Our analysis follows in the tradition of seminal work by Elder and Conger by examining how economic recessions shape the quality of romantic unions. However, we significantly advance prior work in three ways. First, we adopt a more rigorous approach to causal inference, using individual fixed-effects models and employing exogenous measures of macro-economic conditions to identify the effects of the recession on men’s abusive behavior in romantic unions.  This approach improves upon prior work, which relies on individual-level markers of economic hardship and is therefore subject to omitted variable bias.

Second, extending prior research, we consider how the pace of changein unemployment affects abuse in relationships. Prior research has often measured recessions using levels of unemployment, which do not capture the speed at which labor market conditions are deteriorating. This is a subtle but important omission. If the behavioral effects of recessions are driven in part by the shock of rapid changes in the economy, then a measure that captures this dimension is called for. Our research addresses this gap.

Third, our data are taken from a large, population-based sample of parents, which allows us to generalize our results to a known population and to examine heterogeneity in the effects of the Great Recession on different demographic sub-groups and to include marital and cohabiting unions. In contrast, most prior work has used small, purposive samples of (mostly) white, married couples.

We find that the rapid increase in the unemployment rate that characterized the Great Recession was associated with increases in the prevalence of controlling behavior among married and cohabiting couples with children. The association between rapidly worsening macro-economic conditions and intimate partner violence persists even after controlling for individual-level experiences of unemployment and material hardship. We interpret these findings as indicating that economic uncertainty plays an important role in relationship dynamics. We also find interesting race/ethnic differences in responses to rapidly declining macro-economic conditions. Although Black and Hispanic mothers and less educated mothers are more likely to experience intimate partner violence than White mothers and more educated mothers, the association between a rapidly worsening economy and abusive behavior is stronger for Whites and for mothers with at least some college education.