Females' Labor Force Participation and Intimate Femicide: An Empirical Assessment of the Backlash Hypothesis

Article excerpt

Using data from the Supplementary Homicide Reports in conjunction with 1990 U.S. census data in a cross-sectional analysis, this paper tests the proposition that increased participation of women in the paid labor force will elevate the incidence of females' intimate homicide victimization. In part, results support the backlash hypothesis. Specifically, they suggest that a growth in the female labor force participation rate decreases the poverty rate. Reductions in the poverty rate, in turn, augment the incidence of intimate lethal violence against women. We discuss the theoretical implications of these results.

The United States of America ranks as one of the most violent advanced industrialized nations (Reiss & Roth, 1993). Most of the victims of lethal violence have been males. In 1996, for example, the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) showed 19,654 murders across America-a rate of 7.4 murders per 100,000 of population. Seventy-seven percent of the victims were male; 15% were between 18-22 years; Whites and African Americans each made up 48% of the murder victims; and firearms were the weapons used in about 70% of the murders (Ringel, 1997). Browne and Williams (1993) have remarked that because of the overrepresentation of males among homicide victims, much of the research on homicide victimization has proceeded as if gender-specific homicide victimization studies are not warranted; explanations of male homicide victimization should be equally valid for females. Such an assumption is lamentable, they continued, since it reflects an implicit depreciation of women's experiences and precludes the opportunity for struggling with alternative explanations if gender differences in homicide victimization become manifest.

According to Bailey and Peterson (1995), most of the research which has grappled with the issue of females' homicide victimization is micro-descriptive in nature (e.g., Browne & Williams, 1993;McClain, 1982; Smith & Kuchta, 1993,1995; Weisheit, 1984;Wilbanks, 1982). Consequently, these studies could not address the issue of females' homicide victimization in light of macro/structural considerations. However, a number of scholars have endeavored to analyze the effects of macro/structural forces on females' homicide victimization. These include, but are not limited to, Yang and Lester (1988), Bailey and Peterson (1995), Gartner (1990), Gartner and McCarthy (1991), Gartner, Baker, and Pampel (1990). Yang and Lester (1988), for example, explored the relationship between females' labor force participation and rates of suicide and homicide in the United States. Using data from 1980 UCR and the U.S. census, they regressed variables representing females' labor force participation, urbanization, interstate migration, and the divorce rate on males' and females' homicide and suicide rates. Their results showed that homicide rates were highest in states with high proportions of female labor force participants.

In contrast, Gartner (1990) conducted a cross-national analysis using age- and sexspecific homicide victimization data from 18 industrialized countries for the years 1950- 1980. Her explanatory variables include income inequality, divorce rates, ethnic heterogeneity, age structure of the population, and cultural context. Her results showed that with the exception of females' labor force participation rates, the risk factors predicting homicide victimization are not sex-specific. Indicators of material deprivation, weak social integration, and exposure to official violence are all predictive of males' and females' homicide victimization.

In a related study, Gartner, Baker, and Pampel (1990) sought to explain the gender gap in homicide victimization for 18 advanced industrialized nations. Their explanatory variables included such factors as the divorce rate, females' labor force participation rates, occupational desegregation, and females' share of college enrollments. Results were ambivalent about the role of females' labor force participation: They showed that women's labor force participation generates a narrower than expected gender gap in homicide victimization only when women's educational attainment is low. …