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The Impacts of Education, Adverse Childhood Experience, and Nativity on Intimate Partner Violence

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This paper tested an implication of household bargaining theory, that women with higher human capital experience less intimate partner violence. Relying on a single source of income imposes a barrier to leaving an abusive relationship. Women with higher human capital are better equipped to leave a relationship, which allows them to tolerate less violence in a relationship. Using a California health survey dataset, we found that more educated women were less likely to experience spousal violence. We used the detailed nature of the data to control for commonly omitted variables such as adverse childhood experiences. In addition, we found that the effect of education on intimate partner violence varied by nativity (US-born vs. foreign-born) and was smaller for foreign-born women. Drawing from the literature on the returns to education by race, we hypothesized that foreign-born women have a lower return on human capital, which in turn moderated the effect of education on household bargaining power.

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  1. All listed money values are in US dollars.

  2. For instance, Hidrobo and Fernald (2013) examined how education affects the family dynamics of cash transfers and IPV, but did not control for adverse childhood experiences.

  3. See Lundberg (2002) and Pollak (2005) for examples of this effect.

  4. There is a potential issue of ACE being an endogenous control, and hence introducing some inconsistency in the estimator on Education. However, we believe that the issue of omitted variables is both more certain and more pressing.

  5. 8th grade or less to 6; some high school to 10; high school graduate to 12; some technical school to 13; technical school graduate to 14; some college to 14; college graduate to 16; postgraduate or professional degree to 20.

  6. We used White, Black, and Hispanic variables, as opposed to non-Hispanic race variables, to allow some additional differentiation in Hispanic ethnicities.

  7. Witnessing parental IPV did not have a significant statistical effect on coercive control.

  8. We estimated the years of schooling in a foreign country for foreign-born women by calculating the woman’s age when she entered the US minus 6. We replaced this estimation with her reported years of schooling if her reported education was lower. Finally, we estimated her US education by comparing her reported education and the years of schooling in a foreign country. US-born women were assumed to be educated within the US.

  9. The plots of the interaction effects for the four IPV types in this specification were also similar to Figs. 1 and 2, and are available upon request.

  10. The State of California mandates compulsory schooling until the age of 18, based on Education Code Section 48200, amended in 1987.

  11. We assumed that the return on education, and hence education’s effect on bargaining power, was non-decreasing over the level of education. This is consistent with Mincer’s (1974) classic and oft-cited method for finding the return on education, which estimated a consistent log-linear return of education on earnings.

  12. While employing marginal effects was a useful way to test for reverse causality in this case, our analysis lost some statistical power when evaluating effects at this granular level. In our main specification, we chose to present figures of the interaction term effect using the method developed by Norton et al. (2004) because it was shown to be more accurate (Ai and Norton 2003).


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Data for these analyses were provided by the California Women’s Health Survey (CWHS) Group. The CWHS is coordinated by the California Department of Public Health in collaboration with the California Department of Mental Health, the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, California Medical Review, Inc., the California Department of Social Services, the California Office of Women’s Health, and the Survey Research Group of the Public Health Institute. Questionnaire development and funding for the survey were provided by collaborating programs. Analyses, findings, and conclusions described in this report are not necessarily endorsed by the CWHS Group.


This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

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Correspondence to Lin-chi Hsu.

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Alexander Henke declares that he has no conflict of interest. Lin-chi Hsu declares that she has no conflict of interest.

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This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

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Henke, A., Hsu, Lc. The Impacts of Education, Adverse Childhood Experience, and Nativity on Intimate Partner Violence. J Fam Econ Iss 39, 310–322 (2018).

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