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Unemployment and Domestic Violence: Theory and Evidence

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  • Dan Anderberg
  • Helmut Rainer
  • Jonathan Wadsworth
  • Tanya Wilson

Abstract

While many commentators perceive unemployment to be a key risk factor for intimate partner violence, the empirical evidence remains limited. We combine individual-level data from the British Crime Survey (BCS) with local labor market data to estimate the effects of total and gender-specific unemployment rates on domestic violence. The analysis uses the substantial variation in the increase in unemployment across areas, gender, and age-groups associated with the onset of the latest recession. Our main specification links a woman's risk of being abused to the unemployment rate among females and males in her local area and age group. Our results suggest that male and female unemployment have opposite-signed effects on domestic violence: while female unemployment increases the risk abuse, unemployment among males has the opposite effect. The result is shown to be robust to the inclusion of a wide set of control and also remains when we instrument for male and female unemployment using shift-share indices of labor demand. We argue that our findings are consistent with a theory of domestic violence in which (i) marriage provides insurance against employment risk through the pooling of resources, and (ii) a woman does not know the violent predisposition of her partner but infers it from his behavior. When the male partner face a high risk of unemployment, a potentially abusive husband strategically conceals his type as he has an economic incentive to avoid divorce and the associated loss of spousal insurance. However, when the female spouse faces a high risk of unemployment, her expected financial dependency on her partner prompts a husband with violent predisposition to reveal his abusive nature.
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Suggested Citation

  • Dan Anderberg & Helmut Rainer & Jonathan Wadsworth & Tanya Wilson, 2016. "Unemployment and Domestic Violence: Theory and Evidence," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 126(597), pages 1947-1979, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:econjl:v:126:y:2016:i:597:p:1947-1979
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1111/ecoj.2016.126.issue-597
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • D19 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Other
    • C20 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Single Equation Models; Single Variables - - - General

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