Findings released in a paper this month by the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) showed strong evidence supports the theory that an increase in female unemployment prompts an increase in domestic violence.
The study combined data from the British Crime Survey with local labour market data at local police force area level from the UK’s annual population survey. The data from across England and Wales was studied across the sample period of 2004-2011; encompassing a period of increased unemployment. Key to the theory forwarded in the report is the view that a male with a violent predisposition can either reveal or conceal his type with incentives for doing so reliant upon future earnings prospect.
Contrary to prior perception that male unemployment in particular is the key determinant of domestic violence, the CEP’s findings suggest that a one per cent increase in female unemployment would trigger a three per cent rise in physical abuse by an intimate partner. A corresponding increase in male employment would have the opposite effect. This suggests that male and female unemployment have opposite-signed effects whereby female unemployment increases the risk of domestic abuse and unemployment among males reduces it. Additionally, the CEP stated with confidence that there was ‘no evidence to support the hypothesis that domestic violence increases with the overall unemployment rate’.
The CEP said: “when women are at a high risk of unemployment, their economic dependency on their spouses may prevent them from leaving their partners. This in turn might prompt male partners with a predisposition for violence to reveal their abusive tendencies.” The CEP viewed that abusive males who become unemployed or are faced with the risk may rationally abstain from abusive behaviour so as not to incur an economically detrimental situation of divorce or a loss of spousal insurance.
In a 2008 interview for The Guardian, the Attorney General for England and Wales argued that domestic violence will spread as the recession deepens: “When families go through difficulties, if someone loses their job, or they have financial problems, it can escalate stress, and lead to alcohol or drug abuse. Quite often violence can flow from that.”
Also included in the report was evidence that exposure “to physical abuse declines with age and with academic qualifications acquired after compulsory education.”
The study contributes to a small but growing literature in economics on domestic violence. It marks the first economic theory to examine domestic violence in a setting where wives do not hold total information about their husband’s type.