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An intergenerational model of domestic violence


This paper proposes and analyzes an intergenerational model of domestic violence (IMDV) in which behavioral strategies or scripts are transmitted from parents to children. The model rests upon three key assumptions: The probability that a husband will be violent depends on whether he grew up in a violent home. The probability that a wife will remain with a violent husband depends on whether she grew up in a violent home. Individuals who grew up in violent homes tend to marry individuals who grew up in violent homes. The IMDV calls attention to three features neglected in the domestic violence literature. The first is the marriage market. If some men are more likely than others to be violent as husbands and if some women are more likely than others to remain in violent marriages, then the level of violence is sensitive to the probability that such individuals will marry each other. The second neglected feature is divorce: ongoing domestic violence requires the conjunction of a husband who is violent and a wife who stays in the marriage. Third, variables and policies that reduce the rate of domestic violence in the current generation are likely to reduce it even further in future generations.

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Correspondence to Robert A. Pollak.

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I am grateful to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for financial support, to Marla Lieberman for interesting and useful conversations, to Helen Tauchen for insightful comments, and especially to Shelly Lundberg for suggestions that have shaped and reshaped this paper. I am also grateful to Ted Bergstrom and to anonymous referees for their help. Of course I retain responsibility for the views expressed. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Washington, Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Princeton University, the Population Association of America, Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins University. Responsible editor: Alessandro Cigno.

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Pollak, R. An intergenerational model of domestic violence. J Popul Econ 17, 311–329 (2004).

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  • Domestic violence
  • spousal abuse
  • family violence

JEL classification

  • D1
  • I1
  • J1