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

Andreas Villarreal, Sociology, University of Texas at Austin

Research Grant, 2006

An 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 on their risk of violence. Some theorists argue that employed women are less economically dependent on their partners and are therefore less likely to tolerate abuse. A second theoretical tradition sees violence as a result of power derived from an imbalance in access to resources. Male partners who cannot derive power from their employment status or greater economic resources will use violence to assert their dominance in the relationship. Empirical findings from previous studies examining the relation between women’s employment and the risk of intimate partner violence have also been mixed. Some studies find greater violence toward women who are employed, whereas others find the opposite relation or no relation at all.

My study contributes to this debate by proposing and testing a new conceptual 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. Ignoring the fact that the same men that are likely to physically abuse their partners are also more likely to prevent them from working leads to an incorrect estimation of the effect of women’s employment on their risk of violence. Using a statistical model that takes into account this complex relationship in fact reverses the estimated association between women’s employment and violence. The final results show that employment significantly reduces women’s risk of violence in Mexico. Data for the study are drawn from a sample of over 30,000 Mexican women in intimate relationships. This finding has broad implications given the rapid increase in female labor force participation not only in Mexico but in many other developing countries as well.

The final results show that employment significantly reduces women's risk of violence in Mexico.

My study also contributes to our general knowledge of domestic violence in Mexico. In addition to a woman’s employment status, I also examine the effect that factors such as her age, educational attainment, marital status, urban residence, and violence in her family of origin have on her risk of intimate partner violence. Similarly, my statistical analysis examines how household characteristics such as crowding and the presence of extended family members affects violence against women.

  1. Villarreal, Andreas. "Women's Employment Status, Coercive Control and Intimate Partner Violence in Mexico."Journal of Marriage and Family 69 (2007): 418-434.

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