Journal of Family Violence

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 161–180 | Cite as

The marriage license as a hitting license: A comparison of assaults in dating, cohabiting, and married couples

  • Jan E. Stets
  • Murray A. Straus


There are many studies of marital and dating violence. However, methodological differences between these studies make it difficult to determine differences in the nature and extent of physical assault between marital status groups. This paper helps fill that gap by analyzing data from two surveys: a study of 526 dating couples at a large midwestern university, and a study of a national probability sample of 5005 married and 237 cohabiting couples. The results show that cohabiting couples have a higher rate of assault than dating and married couples. These findings persist after controls for age, education, and occupational status are introduced. Violence is also more severe in cohabiting than dating or married couples. A number of factors may account for the more frequent violence in cohabiting relationships. These include social isolation, the issue of autonomy and control, and the investment in the relationship.

Key words

assault violence dating cohabiting married couples 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jan E. Stets
    • 1
  • Murray A. Straus
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of SociologyWashington State UniversityPullman
  2. 2.Family Research LaboratoryUniversity of New HampshireDurham

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