During each global recession of the past decades there have been recurrent suggestions in the media that domestic violence increases with unemployment. All these accounts are based on the same underlying logic that high unemployment could provide the “trigger point” for violent situations in the home. However, from a research perspective, it is far from clear whether unemployment is an overwhelming determinant of domestic violence that many commentators expect it to be, and if so, how unemployment might be associated with domestic violence. A new IZA Discussion Paper by Dan Anderberg, Helmut Rainer, Jonathan Wadsworth and Tanya Wilson develops a simple model that explores how changes in unemployment affect the incidence of domestic violence. In a second step the authors test the predictions of their model using individual level data on domestic violence and unemployment from the UK.
The key theoretical result, confirmed by the empirical estimates, is that an increased risk of male unemployment decreases the incidence of intimate partner violence, while a rising risk of female unemployment increases domestic abuse. The authors explain the intuition for why the effects of male and female unemployment are of opposite signs as follows: When a male with a violent predisposition faces a high unemployment risk, he has an incentive to conceal his true nature since his spouse, given his low expected future earnings, would have a strong incentive to leave him if she were to learn his violent nature. As a consequence, higher male unemployment is associated with a lower risk of male violence. Conversely, when a female faces a high unemployment risk, her low expected future earnings would make her less inclined to leave her partner even if she were to learn that he has a violent nature. Anticipating this, a male with a violent predisposition has no incentive to conceal his true nature. Thus, high female unemployment leads to an elevated risk of intimate partner violence.