The Economic Recession and Intimate Partner Violence: Imbalances in the Traditional Roles of Men and Women Can Put Women at Risk of Violence from Men, and the Current Recession Is Exacerbating This Risk

By Ranjan, Sheetal; Raghavan, Chitra | The Journal of Employee Assistance, April 2010 | Go to article overview

The Economic Recession and Intimate Partner Violence: Imbalances in the Traditional Roles of Men and Women Can Put Women at Risk of Violence from Men, and the Current Recession Is Exacerbating This Risk


Ranjan, Sheetal, Raghavan, Chitra, The Journal of Employee Assistance


The economic recession is affecting families in many ways. For example, recent job loss data indicate that men are losing jobs at a faster pace than women. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 10.3 percent of males were unemployed in 2009, compared to 8.1 percent of females (BLS 2010).

In addition to stressors directly related to job loss, the disproportionate ratio of male to female unemployment has created an imbalance in families that may challenge traditional gender roles. Traditionally, men are expected to provide for the family economically, while women are supposed to play other roles. Taken together, these stressors and the unemployment imbalance can amplify an already tense relationship, potentially leading to partner violence.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines "intimate partner violence" (IPV) as physical, sexual or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse. IPV varies in frequency and severity and can range from one hit or slap to chronic, severe battering (CDC 2010).

A considerable amount of research has been conducted on factors related to IPV The first section of this paper discusses these factors, while the second section discusses the relevance of these factors in a recessionary economy, The third section discusses the problematic outcomes of intimate partner violence and how they may affect employees, and the final section describes how employees can deal with this situation and the role that EAPs can play.

FACTORS RELATED TO IPV

Many factors--being young, being female, belonging to an ethnic or racial minority or being an immigrant, having a low level of education, and being divorced or separated or living with a boyfriend or girlfriend--are associated with IPV. Social and psychological factors such as alcohol and substance abuse, exposure to parental violence, and jealousy are also associated with IPV. In addition, studies have observed a strong relationship between low income, high debts, job instability, perceived economic distress and IPV (Benson, Wooldredge, Thistlethwaite, and Fox 2004; Firestone, Lambert, and Vega 2000). A low income increases not only the likelihood of victimization but also the seriousness of the IPV (Van Wyk, Benson and Fox 2003).

In general, researchers agree that the discrepancy between earning level and need, rather than absolute income, is a better indicator of stress and subsequent violence. They also agree that partner violence is highest among couples where the male has no college education and the female is college educated and least likely among couples who are both college educated (Van Wyk et al. 2003). In a study on employment, men were found to use more coercive control tactics when they were unemployed and their wives were employed. The same study found that being employed triples a woman's risk of being systematically abused when her husband is unemployed (Gartner and Macmillan 1999).

Alcohol use by either the perpetrator or the victim is a strongly supported risk factor in IPV literature (Coker, Smith, McKeown, and King 2000; Cunradi, Caetano, and Schafer 2002; Schafer, Caetano, and Cunradi 2004). Research reports have indicated that IPV may be up to eight times more likely with alcohol use (Lipsky, Caetano, Field, and Bazargan 2005; Cunradi 2007; Walton-Moss, Manganello, Frye, and Campbell 2005). Increased risk of IPV with substance abuse has also been commonly reported (Coker et al. 2000; Cunradi, Caetano, and Schafer 2002), with an odds ratio of 1.94 (Walton-Moss, Manganello, Frye, and Campbell 2005).

In a recession, when job instability, the risk of losing one's home, and indebtedness levels are all high, many individuals find it difficult to cope. If a man loses his job while his wife or girlfriend still has hers, complications can arise because employment is a "symbolic resource" in relationships (Macmillan and Gartner 1999) and is directly related to the status of each partner in the relationship.

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