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Domestic violence laws and suicide in Mexico

Abstract

In the mid-1990s Mexican states began adopting reforms that for the first time criminalized domestic violence. Two separate policies were also adopted which allowed domestic violence to be grounds for divorce and established prevention and assistance programs for victims of domestic violence. I exploit the variation in time and geography to estimate the impact of these three policies on female suicide rates using a difference-in-difference methodology. The results indicate that states that criminalized domestic violence exhibited a 22–34% decrease in suicide rates compared to non-adopting states, but there is no robust evidence that the other two policies had any impact. A battery of tests provides support for the robustness of these findings and indicates that most of the effects are concentrated among married women. Analysis of a cross-sectional, nationally representative survey covering violence against women in Mexico suggests reduction in sexual and physical violence as a possible mechanism behind the reduction in female suicide rates. These findings are consistent with an intra-household bargaining model with asymmetric information and costly conflict which predicts that policies that reduce conflict within the household can reduce female suicides. The results highlight the importance of developing and implementing policies that facilitate reporting and providing access to legal institutions for victims of domestic violence, which can in turn improve a victim’s wellbeing.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. The World Health Organization estimated that in countries like Nicaragua and Chile, domestic violence costs, in terms of productivity loss, represent at least 1.6% of their gross domestic product (WHO 2005). Further, studies have shown that domestic violence is negatively associated with wages, health outcomes (Aizer 2010; Aizer 2011), and student performance (Carrell and Hoekstra 2010). There is also evidence that children who witness violence can become more likely to accept and perpetrate this behavior (Pollak 2004; Bowlus and Seitz 2006).

  2. There are 31 states and the Federal District, which henceforth will be referred to as a state.

  3. Generally, the penal codes discuss IFV while the civil codes use DV. Hereon I will use IFV and DV interchangeably.

  4. The model also speaks about the expected outcome of male suicide, but in this paper we focus on the model’s prediction for female suicide. In Anderson and Genicot’s (2015) model, male suicide rates can increase because an individual’s utility under separation depends on his or her resources, so when the redistribution of resources improves the outcome of a separation for women, it makes separation less attractive for men. Analysis available upon request shows positive coefficients associated with the Penal Code Reform and male suicide rates but the effects are not statistically significant for all except the preferred specification.

  5. I estimated the suicide rates for the state of Tlaxcala using linear interpolation because the data showed no suicides for the entire year in 2000. The results do not change when this state is excluded entirely from the analysis.

  6. The states of Colima and San Luis Potosi are excluded from the analyses because their publication dates for the adoption of Penal Code could not be verified. Separate analysis (not shown) shows that using an alternative definition of policy adoption does not alter the results.

  7. I also conduct the same analysis using homicides as the dependent variable but the estimates are imprecisely estimated (see Supplementary Appendix Table 4).

  8. Data shown in Supplementary Appendix Fig. 4 suggests that this may be changing as the number of crimes associated with domestic violence and sexual abuse has increased since the early 2000s.

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Acknowledgements

This paper evolved from a chapter of my PhD dissertation and has benefited greatly from comments and suggestions from David Fairris, Mindy Marks, Jorge Agüero, Nellie Lew, Rosemarie Lavaty Summers, and participants of the Eastern Economic Association 2011 Meetings, CSWEP CeMENT Workshop 2015, and three anonymous referees. I also thank Garance Genicot for her invaluable discussion about the model. All errors are my own.

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Correspondence to Trinidad Beleche.

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Beleche, T. Domestic violence laws and suicide in Mexico. Rev Econ Household 17, 229–248 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11150-017-9362-4

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Keywords

  • Domestic violence
  • Mexico
  • Public policy
  • Suicide rate
  • Intra-household bargaining
  • Conflict

JEL Classifications

  • J12
  • K3
  • 054
  • D1