Unemployment and Domestic Violence: Theory and Evidence

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IZA Seminar

Place: Schaumburg-Lippe-Str. 9, 53113 Bonn

Date: 19.03.2013, 12:15 - 13:30


Presentation by 

Jonathan Wadsworth (Royal Holloway, University of London)


While many commentators perceive unemployment to be a key risk factor associated with the incidence of domestic 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 results suggest that male and female unemployment have opposite-signed effects on domestic violence. While female unemployment increases the risk of abuse, unemployment among males has the opposite effect. The result is shown to be robust to the inclusion of a wide set of controls 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 where a woman does not know the violent predisposition of her partner but infers this from his behaviour. If there is some degree of income pooling within the household then when the male partner faces a high risk of unemployment, a potentially abusive male strategically conceals his type as he has an incentive to avoid divorce. However, when the female spouse faces a high risk of unemployment, her expected financial dependency on her partner prompts the male to reveal his violent nature.

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