Women’s type of property ownership and domestic violence: a theoretical note


We examine the impact of women’s ownership of property on domestic violence. Based on the “Work-In-Household” framework developed in Grossbard (1976, 2015, 2020) and Grossbard-Shechtman (1984), we argue that domestic violence could be related to whether women own their own property or couples own joint property. In particular, private ownership of property by a married woman may reduce her supply of household services to her husband in the absence of domestic violence. To compel a higher supply of household services, the husband might use violence and coercion. In contrast, joint property ownership may act as a type of compensation inducing women to voluntarily supply more household production labor, thereby lowering the chances that men use violence to force women to supply such labor.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Using survey data from rural India, Bloch & Rao (2002) have shown a positive correlation between the likelihood of wife abuse and the wife’s family wealth. They attributed this to the husband’s desire to use violence to extract resources. Makino (2019), however, has provided evidence that a dowry enhances a woman’s status within the household when women lack inheritance rights. Eswaran & Malhotra (2011) have shown that women who work away from home are more likely to face domestic violence in India, and this is arguably due to jealousy and paternity uncertainty in our evolutionary past. Tauchen et al. (1991) found that the correlation between women’s income and domestic abuse was negative in high-income families if men earned more than women, and positive if men earned less than women. This result held only for high-income families presumably due to reluctance of women to hand money over to men. Bobonis et al. (2013) examined the Mexican Oportunidades program and revealed that the beneficiary women were less likely to experience physical violence, but they were more likely to receive violent threats without further abuse. Angelucci (2008) found that the correlation between cash transfers to women and domestic abuse in rural Mexico was negative when the transfer was small, and positive when the transfer was large.

  2. 2.

    For a thorough discussion, see, for example, Grossbard-Shechtman (1984, 1993) and Grossbard (2015). Our review here will mainly follow these studies.

  3. 3.

    Grossbard-Shechtman (1984) also assumes that each individual potentially participates in a regular labor market.

  4. 4.

    Even if the wage increase is compensated by income reduction, there is still greater demand for WIHO due to the possible substitution between one’s own time and the spouse’s time in the household.

  5. 5.

    If there is indivisibility, however, a married woman might decide to work too much or too little, implying a gap between the value of time and the market-determined wage (see Grossbard-Shechtman, 1984; Grossbard, 2015).

  6. 6.

    As Lundberg & Pollak (1993) point out, in a separate spheres bargaining model, the threat point is internal to the marriage. Typically, separate spheres models regard some of the partners’ activities and decisions as gender-specific and belonging to distinct spheres, implying minimal coordination when each spouse optimizes subject to the individual resource constraint. Non-cooperative equilibrium can be beneficial since spouses might end up jointly consuming some public goods.

  7. 7.

    In order to explain divorce, these models embed a non-cooperative (strategic) component, and there is an explicit equilibrium where divorce is an outcome. We thank Ching-Jen Sun for this comment.

  8. 8.

    For a thorough review of the cooperative elements in the economics of the marriage and household, one can consult Lundberg & Pollak (1993), Eswaran & Malhorta (2011), Grossbard (2015), and many references therein.

  9. 9.

    In addition, formal property ownership can serve as collateral to obtain credit, and provide an individual with appealing business opportunities (Gandelman, 2009). Thus, a husband who experiences high excess demand for his wife’s WIHO might find it relatively more difficult to reduce her outside labor supply, thereby resorting to more violence. Sole property ownership by a wife also increases her demand for the husband’s WIHO, but this effect is likely to be small owing to a high specialization of women in spousal labor.

  10. 10.

    Inheritances received during marriage are considered as joint property only under full community property rule in Latin America (Deer et al., 2012).

  11. 11.

    According to the available data, the percentages of women who own homes in Honduras and Guatemala are 38% and 24.8%, respectively. This suggests that under separate property regimes women are more likely to own their property. The percentages of joint ownership of house are 3% and 2.5%, respectively (Deer et al., 2012). It appears that the prevalence of joint ownership in these countries is not related to the default marital property regime, which is not expected. However, Deer et al. (2012) have pointed out the methodological and “cultural” distortions that bias the survey reports on ownership. More specifically, the authors found that after Panama shifted from a separation of property to a partial community property regime in 1994, the number of households reporting joint ownership of homes increased by 46%.


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We thank the Editor Shoshana Grossbard, Charles Yuji Horioka, and four anonymous referees for their very helpful suggestions and feedback. All errors are our own.

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Correspondence to Emin Gahramanov.

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Gahramanov, E., Gaibulloev, K. & Younas, J. Women’s type of property ownership and domestic violence: a theoretical note. Rev Econ Household 19, 223–232 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11150-021-09544-z

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JEL classification

  • D1
  • J12
  • J16


  • WIHO model
  • Domestic violence
  • Property ownership
  • Women’s empowerment