Unemployment and Domestic Violence: Theory and Evidence
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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