As women’s incomes increase, so does the risk of domestic violence

In the SNS report “Women’s economic conditions and domestic violence”, economist Sanna Ericsson shows that women benefitting from increased economic empowerment is associated with an increased risk of domestic violence. There is also an increased probability that the man in the marriage seeks care for anxiety, depression or for having suffered physical abuse. One explanation for this “backlash effect” may be that the traditional balance of power in the relationship is altered.

Sanna Ericsson has analysed the relationship between women’s incomes and the risk of experiencing domestic violence. These results indicate what is referred to as a backlash effect. This means that increased incomes for women result in a greater risk of being exposed to domestic violence.

“I was surprised that this is the situation in Sweden, which is often presented as one of the most gender-equal countries in the world”, says Sanna Ericsson, PhD in economics at the Lund University School of Economics and Management.

Some groups are also more affected than others. The risk is particularly high for women with a higher level of education, women over the age of 45 and women having been married for more than five years

By utilising a unique data material, Ericsson has also been able to link information on the woman’s income to how the man in the marriage is affected. The results indicate that the probability of men seeking care for anxiety, substance abuse or having been exposed to violence goes up with increased incomes for women.

“This further strengthens the hypothesis of a backlash effect. It is possible to argue that when the woman’s income increases, the traditional balance of power in the relationship is altered. This might lead to the man feeling inadequate, which further increases destructive behaviours”, says Ericsson.

Ericsson emphasises that there are many difficulties involved in studying these relationships. The number of unrecorded cases is probably large and hospital visits in all likelihood only show the tip of an iceberg. In combination with other methodological challenges, this makes it harder to carry out the analysis. However, given the key position of this issue in gender equality efforts, we must continue to seek to understand what leads to what. Otherwise, according to Ericsson, it will be difficult to design suitable measures.

About the report

The analysis is based on a data sample consisting of just over 900,000 women followed during the period of 2001–2011. The women included in the study are aged between 20 and 65 and have been in a heterosexual marriage during the entire or part of the period being studied. By using unique personal serial numbers, it is possible to identify the women’s husband, children, income, municipality in which they reside and other demographic factors to then link these to healthcare visit data.

In the study, women’s incomes are measured via expected income, a measure of income created by using several variables, including municipality in which the individual resides. It is necessary to measure income in this way in order to address what is referred to as reverse causality, a common problem when working with economic data.

Download the SNS Research Brief 66. Female Economic Empowerment and Domestic Violence. English summary