Income Inequality Can Lead to Danger for Women
Although COVID-19 and similar outbreaks over the years have claimed countless lives, so has a different type of pandemic: domestic abuse. One big difference, is the reality that intimate partner violence largely flies under the radar. Impacting both men and women — as both victims and perpetrators, domestic abuse often stems from identifiable risk factors.
Female and 'Bringing Home the Bacon'
The issue of a woman earning more than her male partner in a relationship is not new. What is new, is how post-pandemic job losses and layoffs have thrust more couples into this relationship of power imbalance.
While many modern couples view a female family breadwinner as a sign of progress, and are relieved at the resulting income stream, some partners feel threatened by the un-stereotypical power dynamic. Unfortunately, the suggestion that spousal violence stems from attempts to control and dominate female partners in marital relationships has serious consequences during times of unexpected unemployment.
Ross MacMillan and Rosemary Gartner studied this issue back in 1999 in the article, "When She Brings Home the Bacon: Labor-Force Participation and the Risk of Spousal Violence against Women."
They examined the link between the risk of spousal violence against women and employment by treating a woman’s participation in the workforce as a symbolic resource, rather than a socioeconomic one. Their data, from the Violence Against Women Survey, gathered the experiences of 8,461 women with spouses either legally or per common-law.
MacMillan and Gartner (ibid.) found that the impact of a woman’s employment on her level of risk for violence depended on the employment status of her spouse.
Specifically, the authors noted that women who were gainfully employed were at lower risk of spousal abuse when their male partners also worked, but they were at substantially increased risk when in a relationship with male partners who were not employed.
They suggest that "these effects reflect, to some extent, efforts by men to coercively control their female partners."
Discussing the relationship between employment and spousal violence more broadly, MacMillan and Gartner (supra) found little evidence that employment as an economic resource was a risk factor. They did not, contrary to prior research, find that working women were less likely to be domestic violence victims.
They also did not find that working men had a decreased likelihood of becoming perpetrators, perhaps by virtue of economic stability. Abuse was apparently conditioned in part on the employment status of each partner.
Women Who Work are at Risk
Research in other jurisdictions has similarly found working women to be at higher risk of intimate partner valence. Varena Tandrayen-Ragoobur conducted a recent study (2020) examining the link between working women and being victimized by intimate partners.
Using the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) across 20 Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries between the years of 2010 and 2015, she found working women have a 19% higher odds of abuse as compared to their non-working counterparts. She found this result was true for sexual, emotional and less severe forms of physical abuse.
Relevant to the relationship between education and employment, it is noteworthy that Tandrayen-Ragoobur also observed that women with more education face a higher risk of intimate partner abuse.
Although such research has many other implications for working women, jurisdictional laws, and family counseling, it serves to dispel the stereotype held by some that education and employment will always serve to protect women from violence.
Safe at Home
The goal is to keep families safe in their own homes both emotionally and physically. This is true for better or for worse, and both in sickness and in health — to borrow language from common wedding vows. It should also be true in times of prosperity or in debt — regardless of which partner is able to produce an income stream.
Financial power imbalance due to job status or lack thereof is a modern reality for many couples, that can be addressed productively through open communication between partners or through professional counseling. In either case, the goal is to address underlying resentment or perceived inadequacy in a safe environment where feelings can be explored safely, non-judgmentally, and lovingly.
This column was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick, JD, MDiv, PhD, is an award-winning career trial attorney and media commentator. She is host of “Live with Dr. Wendy” on KCBQ, and a daily guest on other media outlets, delivering a lively mix of flash, substance, and style. Her over 4,500 media appearances include major news outlets including CNN, Fox News Channel, HLN, FOX Business Network, and weekly appearances on Newsmax. She is author of Red Flags (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House, revision). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin professionally with a rock band. Read Dr. Wendy L. Patricks's Reports — More Here.
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