Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Women's Employment Status, Coercive Control, and Intimate Partner Violence in Mexico

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Women's Employment Status, Coercive Control, and Intimate Partner Violence in Mexico

Article excerpt

Findings from previous studies examining the relation between women's employment and the risk of intimate partner violence have been mixed. Some studies find greater violence toward women who are employed, whereas others find the opposite relation or no relation at all. I propose a new framework in which a woman's employment status and her risk of violent victimization are both influenced by the level of control exercised by her partner. Controlling men will actively prevent women from working and are also more likely to physically harm their partners. Using a statistical model in which the effect of omitted characteristics on women's employment and their risk of violence are allowed to be correlated reverses the estimated association between employment and violence. The final results show that employment reduces women's risk of violence. Data for the study are drawn from a sample of over 30,000 Mexican women in intimate relationships. The findings have broad implications given the increase in female labor force participation in many parts of the world.

Key Words: domestic violence, employment, intimate partner/marital abuse, Mexico, power.

Research on domestic violence has increased dramatically over the past two decades. Studies conducted in the United States have revealed new information about the frequency and severity of violence perpetrated against women by their partners, as well as the types of factors that place women at greater risk (see Holtzworth-Monroe, Bates, Smutzler, & Sandin, 1997; Johnson & Ferraro, 2000; Miller & Knudsen, 1999, for reviews). One unresolved issue in the literature on domestic violence is the effect that women's economic status, and specifically their participation in the labor market, has on their risk of violent victimization. Different theoretical perspectives lead to opposite conclusions regarding the possible effect of women's employment. Marital dependency theorists argue that employed women are less economically dependent on their partners and are therefore less likely to tolerate abuse (Kalmuss & Straus, 1990; Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980; Strube & Barbour, 1983). A second theoretical tradition known as resource theory sees violence as a result of power derived from an imbalance in access to resources (Allen & Straus, 1980; Goode, 1971). Male partners who cannot derive power from their employment status or greater economic resources will use violence to assert their dominance in the relationship. A feminist perspective similarly predicts a higher risk of violence against employed women. Feminist scholars place greater importance on the symbolic value attached to men's greater earnings potential. They argue that men's larger economic contribution to the household is tied to the construction of their masculinity. Men in intimate relations will therefore perceive their female partners' employment as a threat to which they might respond violently (Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Yllo, 1993; Yllo & Straus, 1990).

Empirical findings on the relation between women's employment status and the risk of violence are similarly divided. Some studies find greater violence toward women who are employed (DeMaris, Benson, Fox, Hill, & Van Wyk, 2003; Hornung, McCullough, & Sugimoto, 1981), whereas others find the opposite relation (Kalmuss & Straus, 1990; Straus et al., 1980), or no relation at all (Fox, Benson, DeMaris, & Van Wyk, 2002; Kaukinen, 2004). In this article, I suggest that the different estimates of the effect of women's employment may be a result of the way in which statistical models used to test the association between women's employment and their risk of violence have been specified. As Gibson-Davis, Magnuson, Gennetian, and Duncan (2005) have recently suggested, unmeasured characteristics of women are likely to affect both their likelihood of employment and their risk of violence leading to biased estimates when women's employment is used as a predictor of violence in standard regression analysis. …

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