Study: The Great Recession Increased Domestic Violence, Controlling Behavior

By Denisse Moreno, Epoch Times
June 8, 2016 1:55 pm Last Updated: June 8, 2016 1:55 pm

Money problems can affect families, but just living through a major economic recession increases a mother’s chance of suffering domestic violence, a study suggests.

The impact of economic distress on romantic relationships was studied by Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of California, Berkeley.

Researchers examined whether personal economic issues and high unemployment rates would increase a mother’s chance of being in a violent or controlling partnership.

The study reveals mothers across the board saw a rise in intimate partner violence during the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009. Mothers who experienced financial losses had even higher chances of being a victim of domestic violence.

Researchers studied both employed and unemployed fathers, as well as data from city and individual levels.

As men feel more anxious and less power over their jobs and financial security, they become more likely to increase control over their partners, which sometimes leads to abuse, according to data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, alongside local area unemployment rates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In the large study, about 5,000 mothers who gave birth in large U.S. cities between 1998 and 2000 were interviewed. The parents of the newborns were interviewed when the baby was born and again when the child was 1, 3, 5, and 9 years old. The surveys were conducted during the Great Recession, as well as when the economy was bouncing back.

Researchers studied mothers throughout those years, even if they had changed partners or were no longer in a relationship. In the interviews, mothers were asked about their partners’ violent and controlling behaviors.

These were the questions:

  1. He tries to keep you from seeing or talking with your friends or family.
  2. He tries to prevent you from going to work or school.
  3. He withholds money, makes you ask for money, or takes your money.
  4. He slaps or kicks you.
  5. He hits you with a fist or an object that could hurt you.
  6. He tries to make you have sex or do sexual things you don’t want to do.

The study found that male partners don’t always have to lose their job or experience personal economic downfalls in order to domestically abuse his partner.

Instead, the trigger for intimate partner violence can be just merely the stress of living during a bad economic period, where the male might experience job loss or economic hardship at any moment, even if it hasn’t happened yet.

“Most surprising, rapid increases in unemployment rates—50 percent or more in the past year—led to increases in men’s controlling behavior, but not physical violence, among couples who did not directly experience unemployment or material hardship themselves, suggesting the fear of hard times was important for these couples,” Sara McLanahan, an author of the study said. 

“This pattern exemplifies the psychological dynamic that a loss of control in one domain, like the economy, leads men to assert greater control in another domain, in this case their intimate relationships,” she added. 

Living through #recessions increases a mother’s chances of encountering domestic violence. https://t.co/SIMbktwIs6 pic.twitter.com/L2xUYHQGxw

— Wilson School (@WilsonSchool) June 7, 2016

Recessions trigger feelings of fear and insecurity, which alters the way people behave in relationships. The study shows that controlling behavior is more responsive to economic conditions than violent behavior.

The authors of the study suggest that society should take into consideration the risk for domestic violence mothers are exposed to during a recession.

“First, mental health providers should recognize that rapid economic downturns are likely to increase intimate partner violence,” McLanahan said.

“Second, women whose partners do not become unemployed are also at risk for violence. Both of these points should be publicized during periods of rapid declines in economic conditions,” she added. 

According to the National Coalition for Domestic Violence, 4 in 10 women have experienced at least one form of coercive control by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

On a daily average, more than 20,000 phone calls are placed to domestic violence hotlines across the United States. 

The study, “Intimate Partner Violence in the Great Recession,” was published in the journal “Demography.”

The National Domestic Violence website has more resources and the 24/7 hotline number is: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).