Domestic violence, decision-making power, and female employment in Colombia


Using data from the Colombian Demographic and Health Survey, I document a positive association between intimate partner violence against women and the likelihood of women’s employment. This finding persists when I exploit the husband’s own childhood experience of abuse as a source of plausibly exogenous variation for the incidence of domestic violence. To explore potential mechanisms underlying this association, I use a mediation analysis in the presence of intermediate confounders. I find suggestive evidence that a woman’s decision-making power—measured by active input in household and healthcare decisions—as well as a measure for willingness to divorce are likely mediators. I argue that abused women may hold jobs to increase their economic independence and potentially exit abusive relationships.

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  1. 1.

    In the context of this paper, domestic violence is always directed against women. The terms “spousal violence” and “domestic violence” are used interchangeably in this paper.

  2. 2.

    The DHS program is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Departments are the main political divisions of the country. Colombia is divided into 32 departments and a capital district, Bogota.

  3. 3.

    Another 1.06% of women were also excluded from the DHS because they could not be safely interviewed in private. Not being able to characterize this excluded part of the sample may be of concern if these women are affected the most by DV.

  4. 4.

    For the rest of this document, any mention of domestic violence refers to physical violence against the wife.

  5. 5.

    Departments are the first administrative division in Colombia. There are 32 departments, including the capital city of Bogota.

  6. 6.

    Primary sampling units (PSU) are the first stage of selection in a multi-stage sampling procedure. In the DHS data, these units typically correspond to an enumeration area or a segment of an enumeration area. In this sample, there are 3965 PSUs.

  7. 7.

    The instrument may have no effect on some individuals, but all those who are affected are affected in the same way, so that all individuals who change their treatment status as a result of a change in the instrument either get all shifted into treatment, or get all shifted out of treatment.

  8. 8.

    Household wealth is measured with the DHS wealth index readily available in the dataset and calculated using the methodology of Filmer and Pritchett (2001).

  9. 9.

    For full estimation results, please refer to Table A2 in the Supplementary Appendix.

  10. 10.

    To give this estimate some perspective, forced displacement in Colombia leads displaced women to work eight more hours per week and their wage rates are 1.8 times higher than their rural counterparts (Calderon et al. 2011). Displaced women are also about 5.1 percentage points, or 14%, more likely to work following displacement. Compared with interventions on employment, a randomized evaluation of the youth training program “Jovenes en Accion” shows that female trainees’ probability of paid employment 19–21 months after completing the program increased by 6.8 percentage points (12%) relative to the control group (Attanasio et al. 2011). The positive effect of the program was substantially larger for female work in the formal sector, with an estimated increase of 6.9 percentage points (35%).

  11. 11.

    The methodology is summarized in Supplementary Appendix A.

  12. 12.

    Controlling for other covariates in IV regressions is often important because the assumption of exogeneity may hold only after conditioning on all exogenous variables. In the Nevo and Rosen approach, the assumptions on the correlation structure do not change for the more general version of the model where there are additional covariates.

  13. 13.

    The estimations of the bounds were obtained with the -imperfectiv- Stata command.

  14. 14.

    Please refer to Supplementary Appendix B for details.

  15. 15.

    If an increase in a woman’s threat point increases her chances of leaving and lowers the violence when she stays, then she would seek employment to improve her alternatives.

  16. 16.

    Intermediate confounders are consequences of DV that also affect the intermediate outcome (willingness to divorce) and final outcome (employment).

  17. 17.

    To explain this methodology and its application, I rely on the causal language used by the authors. I, however, am not claiming that my results are causal.

  18. 18.

    Details of the procedure are explained in Supplementary Appendix C.

  19. 19.

    The estimations were obtained with the -ivmediate- Stata command.

  20. 20.

    In Colombia, there are 9 reasons to legally ask for divorce, being domestic violence one of them. No laws or norms were introduced in Colombia after 2005 that may explain a surge in the willingness to separate in 2009/10. I, however, acknowledge that willingness to separate may be capturing factors such as policies that facilitate divorce, which mostly affect the proportion of legally married couples (45%).


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I would like to thank Marc Bellemare, Paul Glewwe, Jason Kerwin, Deborah Levison and Joseph Ritter for comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this paper. I also appreciate valuable comments by Shoshana Grossbard and anonymous referees. Special thanks to Juan C. Chaparro, Scott Cunningham, Camilo Dominguez, Rachel Heath, Anne Hilger, Giulia La Mattina, Juan Morales, Jorge E. Perez, and Carlos Sandoval for their comments and encouragement. I am grateful for useful feedback from participants at various international conferences and seminars. A previous version of this paper was part of my doctoral dissertation at the University of Minnesota, and I gratefully acknowledge funding from the University of Minnesota Graduate School. Any remaining errors or omissions are mine.

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Correspondence to Johanna Fajardo-Gonzalez.

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Fajardo-Gonzalez, J. Domestic violence, decision-making power, and female employment in Colombia. Rev Econ Household 19, 233–254 (2021).

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  • Domestic violence
  • Employment
  • Women’s decision-making power
  • Colombia

JEL classification

  • I10
  • J16
  • J22