Intimate Partner Violence in the Great Recession

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    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.

  2. 2.

    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.

  3. 3.

    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.

  4. 4.

    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.

  5. 5.

    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 %).

  6. 6.

    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.

  7. 7.

    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).

  8. 8.

    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.

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Acknowledgments

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.

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Correspondence to Daniel Schneider.

Appendix

Appendix

Table 6

Table 6 Descriptive statistics

Table 7

Table 7 Full results from Models 1–3 of Table 1 for combined IPV (violence or controlling) outcome

Table 8

Table 8 Area-level unemployment rate (UR) levels on the risk of being in a romantic union that is (1) violent/controlling, (2) controlling, or (3) violent

Table 9

Table 9 Area-level unemployment rate (UR) levels and percentage changes on the risk of being in a union that is (1) violent/controlling, (2) controlling, or (3) violent

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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

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Keywords

  • Intimate partner violence
  • Recession
  • Relationship quality