Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

The Timing of Welfare Payments and Intimate Partner Violence

Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

The Timing of Welfare Payments and Intimate Partner Violence

Article excerpt


Violence against women not only inflicts physical and psychological harm on the victim, but also harms the next generation. For instance, a newborn whose mother experiences domestic violence weighs significantly less than average, and prenatal assault has led to a 1.2% increase in fetal death (Aizer 2011). Domestic violence is also costly. In terms of medical services and forgone productivity, the annual cost of domestic violence in the United States is estimated to be $5.8 billion (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control 2003).

Many household bargaining models portray a husband who uses violence or threats to extract resources. A noncooperative bargaining and signaling model developed by Bloch and Rao (2002) suggests that in dowry-based societies such as India, the husband uses violence to signal his dissatisfaction in order to gain further dowry payments from the bride's family. A more recent study (Bobonis, Gonzalez-Brenes, and Castro 2013) modifies Bloch and Rao's model and predicts that an increase in the female partner's income will lead to more threats--but not more physical violence--from her spouse. In this article, I study the impact of the timing of welfare payments on intimate partner violence (IPV) in the United States.

Welfare transfers increase the recipient's spending immediately (Stephens 2003). Because of the difference between genders in consumption behavior (Lundberg, Pollak, and Wales 1997; Rubalcava, Teruel, and Thomas 2009), I test the hypothesis that men use violence to control the resources granted by a welfare transfer. To explore this idea, I evaluate the timing of welfare payments' influence on domestic violence by exploiting exogenous state-level variation in welfare payment schedules.

This study addresses some empirical challenges in the literature. First, most studies of the relationship between welfare transfers and domestic violence have used cross-sectional data, which do not account for the timing of welfare payments and the timing of violence. The majority of welfare recipients have less income and are less educated, on average, and may have other unobservable characteristics that are correlated with domestic violence reports. Without accounting for these unobserved characteristics, we cannot construct a causal relationship between welfare and domestic violence. Second, much of the literature uses survey data, which may suffer from small sample size, false reports, and a lack of detailed incident information. Lastly, the timing of other income, such as paychecks, may overlap with welfare transfers, and the receipt of other income could affect domestic violence reports in a similar fashion; this could affect all working families, not only those that receive welfare transfers. When the wife receives her paycheck, the husband has a similar incentive to use violence to gain control of the money based on instrumental violence theory; if the wife receives a paycheck and the welfare transfer at the same time, the husband has even more motivation to use violence. However, most studies of the timing of welfare payments do not control for the most common timing of paychecks. Without considering this paycheck effect, the estimated effect of welfare transfers on domestic violence may capture both the effect of welfare transfers and this secondary effect.

To overcome these challenges, I apply three methods. First, I use a survey of state-level welfare payment schedules to develop an index that represents the number of days since Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients' most recent payment. This measure represents the exogenous variation in TANF recipient transfers between states. Second, I build a daily count of IPV for each agency--that is, police jurisdiction--by using panel data from aggregated official police reports. This also allows me to distinguish physical violence from verbal violence and, as a result, better categorize the extent of IPV. …

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