Unemployment and domestic violence

This research was undertaken by academics at Royal Holloway, University of London using administrative data made available via the Office for National Statistics (ONS)Secure Research Service (SRS), which is being expanded and improved with ADR UK funding.

During the Great Recession, due to increased financial pressures within a household, many commentators expected a rise in domestic violence rates as unemployment rates increased. However, this rise in domestic violence did not materialise in official statistics.

It is often thought that rising unemployment increases domestic violence. However, economic theory predicts that male and female unemployment have opposite-signed effects on domestic abuse: an increase in male unemployment decreases the incidence of intimate partner violence, while an increase in female unemployment increases domestic abuse. Combining data on intimate partner violence from the British Crime Survey with locally disaggregated labour market data from the UK’s Annual Population Survey (APS), this research found strong evidence in support of this theoretical position

By examining aggregate data on trends in unemployment rates and abuse in England and Wales, the research revealed an increase in unemployment rates for both men and women and a decrease in physical abuse against women over the period of analysis (2004-2011). In addition, exposure to physical abuse was, in general, found to decline with age and academic qualifications acquired after compulsory education. It was found to vary relatively little with religion and ethnicity but increase with the number of children. The researchers also found that there is substantial spatial variation respectively in female unemployment, male unemployment, the gender unemployment gap and physical abuse.

Unemployment was therefore found to have a significant impact, but in a way that is different from conventional wisdom. There was a negative link between male unemployment and a woman’s risk of being abused and a positive link between female unemployment and a woman’s risk of being abused. Therefore, the researchers suggest policies which encourage female employment or enhance women’s employment security may prove an important contributor to reductions in partner abuse. 

The findings of this research have been presented at a number of policy-relevant forums across Europe, as well as being covered by media outlets including The AtlanticCentrepiece Winter (2013/14) and Science Daily.

Read the findings in full.

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