In the United States, the Great Recession was marked by severe negative shocks to labor market conditions. In this study, we combine longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study with U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data on local area unemployment rates to examine the relationship between adverse labor market conditions and mothers’ experiences of abusive behavior between 2001 and 2010. Unemployment and economic hardship at the household level were positively related to abusive behavior. Further, rapid increases in the unemployment rate increased men’s controlling behavior toward romantic partners even after we adjust for unemployment and economic distress at the household level. We interpret these findings as demonstrating that the uncertainty and anticipatory anxiety that go along with sudden macroeconomic downturns have negative effects on relationship quality, above and beyond the effects of job loss and material hardship.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Prior research on economic conditions and IPV has often made use of the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) or the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN), which were last fielded in 2001–2003 and 2000–2001, respectively; neither can be used to directly assess the effects of the Great Recession. Other studies, such as the General Social Survey (GSS), which was fielded during the Great Recession, do not measure IPV. Three surveys are, however, well suited to examining the effect of the Great Recession on IPV: the FFS, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth-97 (NLSY-97), and National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) conducted interviews during the Great Recession and collected information on IPV in cohabiting and marital unions. However, the Add Health and the NLSY-97 studies are limited by their cohort design, including only young adults aged 24–28 (NLSY-97) or 24–32 (Add Health) at the time of the 2008 interviews in their samples. In contrast, the FFS sample consists of parents of a birth cohort and captures a wide range of parental ages. Further, the FFS sample focus on parents adds to the social significance of the results because children are directly affected.
We conducted a set of supplementary analyses to examine whether experiencing IPV at time t for women in romantic relationships was associated with the dissolution of that romantic relationship by time t + 1 in the FFS. We also examined whether experiencing IPV at time t for women in romantic relationships was associated with being in any romantic relationship at time t + 1. In accord with the prior literature, we found that IPV exposure was associated with dissolution by the next wave and with being in a new romantic relationship at the next wave.
We include the item asking women about whether their current partner “tries to make you have sex or do sexual things you don’t want to do” in our combined measure of controlling or violent behavior. However, we do not use this item in constructing the two narrow measures of controlling behavior and of violent behavior. We chose not to use this measure in constructing those subcategory outcomes because the wording is too vague to distinguish between verbal efforts at sexual control versus violent sexual behavior.
The 10 items, asked in regard to experiences over the 12 months prior to interview, are as follows: (1) received free food or meals, (2) ever hungry because could not afford food, (3) could not pay full amount of rent or mortgage, (4) moved in with other people because of financial problems, (5) evicted from your home or apartment for not paying the rent or mortgage, (6) stayed in a shelter, abandoned building, an automobile, or other place not meant for housing, (7) could not pay the full amount of electricity, gas, or oil bill, (8) had gas or electric service turned off or heating oil not delivered because of nonpayment, (9) had telephone disconnected because of nonpayment, and (10) needed medical care but did not see a doctor or go to the hospital because of the cost. The second item was not asked at Wave 3, and so the value is carried forward from Wave 2.
We compared the respondents with complete data that we include in our analysis with respondents who are deleted because of item missingness on the control variables. In general, we found few differences between the two groups and no significant differences in terms of IPV; household hardship; the share black, white, or Hispanic; postsecondary education; household composition; family background; or marital status. The only significant differences were on couple unemployment (21 % vs. 17 %), age (25 vs. 26), being of “other, non-Hispanic” race/ethnicity (3.5 % vs. 1.4 %), having less than a high school education (33 % vs. 24 %), and having a high school diploma (31 % vs. 38 %).
Because mothers are also observed as many as three times, observations are also clustered within respondents. Adjusting for clustering by mother rather than city returns much smaller standard errors. Correcting for clustering on two dimensions (person and city) does not substantially change the standard errors from those estimated with clustering only for city.
The coefficients shown in Table 8 in the appendix are reduced form estimates of the relationship between MSA-level unemployment rates and our three outcomes. Although area-level unemployment rates could in theory be used to instrument for individual-level unemployment, IV models are not advised when no significant relationship is present in the reduced form (Angrist and Krueger 2001).
To assess the relative importance of changes in behavior versus changes in composition, we examined several new models. First, we looked at the effects of unemployment and percentage change in unemployment on the likelihood of mothers’ entering an abusive partnership, conditional on not being in a coresidential partnership at the time of the previous interview. Second, we looked at the effects of unemployment and percentage change in unemployment on the likelihood of mothers’ leaving an abusive partnership, conditional on being in a partnership at time of the previous interview. Finally, we looked at the effects of unemployment and percentage change in unemployment among mothers who were coresiding with the same partner in consecutive waves. In each model, the coefficients for percentage change in unemployment were similar to those in the original model, although none was statistically significant. These findings suggest to us that the effects identified in the main model are due to both changes in behavior and changes in composition.
Aizer, A. (2010). The gender wage gap and domestic violence. American Economic Review, 100, 1847–1859.
Anderson, K. L. (2010). Conflict, power, and violence in families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 726–742.
Angrist, J., & Krueger, A. B. (2001). Instrumental variables and the search for identification: From supply and demand to natural experiments. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 15(4), 69–85.
Appel, A. E., & Holden, G. W. (1998). The co-occurrence of spouse and physical child abuse: A review and appraisal. Journal of Family Psychology, 12, 578–599.
Arceneaux, K., & Nickerson, D. W. (2009). Modeling certainty with clustered data: A comparison of methods. Political Analysis, 17, 177–190.
Bakke, E. W. (1940). Citizens without work: A study of the effects of unemployment upon the workers’ social relations and practices. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., DeWall, C. N., & Zhang, L. (2007). How emotion shapes behavior: Feedback, anticipation, and reflection, rather than direct causation. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11, 167–203.
Benson, M. L., Fox, G. L., DeMaris, A., & Van Wyk, J. (2003). Neighborhood disadvantage, individual economic distress and violence against women in intimate relationships. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 19, 207–235.
Bowlus, A. J., & Seitz, S. (2006). Domestic violence, employment, and divorce. International Economic Review, 47, 1113–1149.
Brooks-Gunn, J., Schneider, W., & Waldfogel, J. (2013). The great recession and risk for child maltreatment. Child Abuse & Neglect, 37, 721–729.
Brush, L. D. (2011). Poverty, battered women, and work in U.S. public policy (1st ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Caplin, A., & Leahy, J. (2001). Psychological expected utility theory and anticipatory feelings. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 116, 55–79.
Charles, P., & Perreira, K. M. (2007). Intimate partner violence during pregnancy and 1-year post-partum. Journal of Family Violence, 22, 609–619.
Cherlin, A. J., Burton, L. M., Hurt, T. R., & Purvin, D. M. (2004). The influence of physical and sexual abuse on marriage and cohabitation. American Sociological Review, 69, 768–789.
Cohen, P. N. (2014). Recession and divorce in the United States, 2008–2011. Population Research and Policy Review, 33, 615–628.
Coker, A. L., Smith, P. H., Mckeown, R. E., & King, M. J. (2000). Frequency and correlates of intimate partner violence by type- physical, sexual, and psychological battering. American Journal of Public Health, 90, 553–559.
Conger, R., Conger, K., Elder, G., Lorenz, F., Simons, R., & Whitbeck, L. (1992). A family process model of economic hardship and adjustment of early adolescent boys. Child Development, 63, 526–541.
Conger, R. D., Conger, K. J., & Martin, M. J. (2010). Socioeconomic status, family processes, and individual development. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 685–704.
Conger, R. D., Elder, G. H., Jr., Lorenz, F. O., Conger, K. J., Simons, R., Whitbeck, L. B., . . . Melby, J. N. (1990). Linking economic hardship to marital quality and instability. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 52, 643–656.
Cunradi, C. B., Caetano, R., & Schafer, J. (2002). Socioeconomic predictors of intimate partner violence among white, black, and Hispanic couples in the United States. Journal of Family Violence, 17, 377–389.
Elder, G. H., Jr. (1998). Children of the great depression: Social change in life experience (25th Anniversary ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press. (Original work published 1974)
Fox, G. L., & Benson, M. L. (2006). Household and neighborhood contexts of intimate partner violence. Public Health Reports, 121, 419–427.
Fox, G. L., Benson, M., DeMaris, A., & Van Wyk, J. (2002). Economic distress and intimate violence: Testing family stress and resources theories. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 793–807.
Frederick, S., & Loewenstein, G. (1999). Hedonic adaptation. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology (pp. 302–329). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
Giuliano, P., & Spilimbergo, A. (2014). Growing up in a recession. Review of Economic Studies, 81, 787–817.
Glenn, N. D. (1990). Quantitative research on marital quality in the 1980s: A critical review. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 52, 818–831.
Golden, S. D., Perreira, K. M., & Piette Durrance, C. (2013). Troubled times, troubled relationships: How economic resources, gender beliefs, and neighborhood disadvantage influence intimate partner violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 28, 2134–2155.
Green, D. P., Strolovitch, D. Z., & Wong, J. S. (1998). Defended neighborhoods, integration, and racially motivated crime. American Journal of Sociology, 104, 372–403.
Hardie, J. H., & Lucas, A. (2010). Economic factors and relationship quality among young couples: Comparing cohabitation and marriage. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 1141–1154.
Hoynes, H. W. (2002). The employment, earnings, and income of less skilled workers over the business cycle. In D. Card & R. Blank (Eds.), Finding jobs: Work and welfare reform (pp. 23–71). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
Isacco, A., Garfield, C. F., & Rogers, T. E. (2010). Correlates of coparental support among married and nonmarried fathers. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 11, 262–278.
Jewkes, R. (2002). Intimate partner violence: Causes and prevention. Lancet, 359, 1423–1429.
Johnson, M. P., & Ferraro, K. J. (2000). Research on domestic violence in the 1990s: Making distinctions. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 928–963.
Kahneman, D., Knetsch, J. L., & Thaler, R. H. (1991). Anomalies: The endowment effect, loss aversion, and status quo bias. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 5(1), 193–206.
Kingston-Riechers, J. (2001). The association between the frequency of wife assault and marital dissolution in Canada. Journal of Population Economics, 14, 351–365.
Komarovsky, M. (1940). The unemployed man and his family. New York, NY: Dryden Press.
Latif, E. (2014). The impact of macroeconomic conditions on obesity in Canada. Health Economics, 23, 751–759.
Lee, D., Brooks-Gunn, J., McLanahan, S. S., Notterman, D., & Garfinkel, I. (2013). The Great Recession, genetic sensitivity, and maternal harsh parenting. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110, 13780–13784.
Liker, J. K., & Elder, G. H., Jr. (1983). Economic hardship and marital relations in the 1930s. American Sociological Review, 48, 343–359.
Lloyd, S. (1997). The effects of domestic violence on women’s employment. Law & Policy, 19, 139–167.
Loewnstein, G. F., Weber, E. U., Hsee, C. K., & Welch, N. (2001). Risk as feelings. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 267–286.
MacMillan, R., & Gartner, R. (1999). When she brings home the bacon: Labor-force participation and the risk of spousal violence against women. Journal of Marriage and tbe Family, 61, 947–958.
Melzer, S. A. (2002). Gender, work, and intimate violence: Men’s occupational violence spillover and compensatory violence. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 820–832.
Moracco, K. E., Runyan, C. W., Bowling, J. M., & Earp, J. A. (2007). Women’s experiences with violence: A national study. Women’s Health Issues, 17, 3–12.
National Bureau of Economic Research. (n.d.). US business cycle expansions and contractions. Retrieved from http://www.nber.org/cycles.html
Nicklas, E., & Mackenzie, M. J. (2013). Intimate partner violence and risk for child neglect during early childhood in a community sample of fragile families. Journal of Family Violence, 28, 17–29.
O’Campo, P., Gielen, A. C., Faden, R. R., Xue, X., Kass, N., & Wang, M.-C. (1995). Violence by male partners against women during the child- bearing year: A contextual analysis. American Journal of Public Health, 85, 1092–1097.
O’Leary, K. D. (1999). Psychological abuse: A variable deserving critical attention in domestic violence. Violence and Victims, 14, 3–23.
Peterson, R. R. (2011). Employment, unemployment, and rates of intimate partner violence: Evidence from the National Crime Victim Surveys. Sociology of Crime Law and Deviance, 16, 171–193.
Pilkauskas, N. V., Currie, J. M., & Garfinkel, I. (2012). The Great Recession, public transfers and material hardship. Social Service Review, 3, 401–427.
Primo, D. M., Jacobsmeier, M. L., & Milyo, J. (2007). Estimating the impact of state policies and institutions with mixed-level data. State Politics & Policy Quarterly, 7, 446–459.
Reichman, N. E., Teitler, J. O., Garfinkel, I., & McLanahan, S. S. (2001). Fragile Families: Sample and design. Children and Youth Services Review, 23, 303–326.
Rennison, C. M., & Welchans, S. (2000). Intimate partner violence (Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report No. NCJ 178247). Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Ruhm, C. J. (2000). Are recessions good for your health? Quarterly Journal of Economics, 115, 617–650.
Saltzman, L. E., Fanslow, J. L., McMahon, P. M., & Shelley, G. A. (2002). Intimate partner violence surveillance: Uniform definitions and recommended data elements (Report, Version 1.0). Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Schneider, D., McLanahan, S., & Harknett, K. (Forthcoming). The Great Recession and parental relationships. In I. Garfinkel, S. McLanahan, & C. Wimer (Eds.), Children of the Great Recession. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation Press.
Sobotka, T., Skirbekk, V., & Philipov, D. (2011). Economic recession and fertility in the developed world. Population and Development Review, 37, 267–306.
Sorenson, S. B., Upchurch, D. M., & Shen, H. (1996). Violence and injury in marital arguments: Risk patterns and gender differences. American Journal of Public Health, 86, 35–40.
Stark, E. (2007). Coercive control: The entrapment of women in personal life. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Stets, J. E. (1995). Modeling control in relationships. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 57, 489–501.
Straus, M. A. (1979). Measuring intrafamily conflict and violence: The conflict tactics (CT) scales. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 41, 75–88.
Straus, M. A., Gelles, R. J., & Steinmetz, S. K. (2006). Behind closed doors: Violence in the American family. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers. (Original work published 1980)
Thompson, R. S., Bonomi, A. E., Anderson, M., Reid, R. J., Dimer, J. A., Carrell, D., & Rivara, F. P. (2006). Intimate partner violence: Prevalence, types, and chronicity in adult women. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 30, 447–457.
Tolman, R. M., & Wang, H. C. (2005). Domestic violence and women’s employment: Fixed effects models of three waves of women’s employment study data. American Journal of Community Psychology, 36, 147–158.
Umberson, D., Anderson, K., Glick, J., & Shapiro, A. (1998). Domestic violence, personal control, and gender. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 442–452.
Van Wyk, J. A., Benson, M. L., Fox, G. L., & DeMaris, A. (2003). Detangling individual-, partner-, and community-level correlates of partner violence. Crime & Delinquency, 49, 412–438.
Voydanoff, P. (1990). Economic distress and family relations: A review of the eighties. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 52, 1099–1115.
Wilt, S., & Olson, S. (1996). Prevalence of domestic violence in the United States. Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association, 51(3), 77–82.
The authors thank the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) through Grants R01HD36916, R01HD39135, and R01HD40421, as well as a consortium of private foundations for their support of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. This project was supported by the National Poverty Center using funds received from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (Grant No. U01 AE000002-03), as well as by the Russell Sage Foundation. Schneider thanks the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for financial support. Harknett thanks the Population Studies Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The authors gratefully acknowledge helpful comments from Irv Garfinkel, Ariel Kalil, Annette Lareau, Janice Madden, Steve Martin, Susan Sorenson, James Ziliak, and seminar participants at Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, Stanford University, the Russell Sage Foundation, and UC Berkeley.
About this article
Cite this article
Schneider, D., Harknett, K. & McLanahan, S. Intimate Partner Violence in the Great Recession. Demography 53, 471–505 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-016-0462-1
- Intimate partner violence
- Relationship quality