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The Relation Between Women's Economic Status And Domestic Violence

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The study of the household as an economic unit is normally viewed as a cooperative unit. Domestic violence occurs mostly against women and would be better explained as a non-cooperative relationship within the household. A woman's economic status is undoubtedly linked with domestic violence between a married couple of a household. This link can be broken down into three aspects as discussed by Weaver et al. (2009). Firstly, although domestic violence is prevalent across households of all socioeconomic status, there is evidence that suggests that domestic violence is more likely to occur within a household that has a vastly differing economic status, having poorer women suffer more from domestic violence. Secondly, women who are economically dependent on their partner find it more difficult to leave their abusive relationship due to the inability to be self-sufficient. This may cause victims of domestic violence to have a higher relapse rate in returning to their abusive relationship for economic relief. Lastly, domestic violence can take the form of suppressing the earning capabilities of women as a method of abuse. This may take the form of lessened opportunities for education and access to funds as a way to undermine the possibility for the victim of domestic abuse to become self-sufficient. This essay will explore relevant theoretical frameworks that help explain the link between women's economic status and domestic violence and possible pathways to reduce the occurrence of domestic violence within households.

Becker (1965) focuses on families as a cooperative unit in which both parties are able to make altruistic, normal family preferences. In this neoclassical model, the couple is able to allocate their time either in the labour market or on household work depending on their preferences and their opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is the cost of your action with the next best option foregone. To achieve their maximised utility function, there is a joint budget function in which income is pooled together. This model does not work when analysing the effects of women's economic status on domestic violence because the couple is not working cooperatively in an altruistic sense. Additionally, there are fundamental problems with the neoclassical model. This model ignores the internal decision-making structure of the family, denies any potential for conflicting preferences within the household and implies that income is pooled within the household without concern of who receives or earns the income. These are problems that would not work with a non-cooperative family in which domestic violence occurs due to the inherent lack of a hierarchy of power and differing income between the parties within the marriage.

In order to better analyse domestic violence within a household, we must look at McElroy and Horney's (1981) model of the household in which each party has distinct preferences and are seen as individuals. In order for both individuals to arrive at the same output as the cooperative model of Becker, individuals combine their preferences. In McElroy and Horney's model, for marriage to occur and sustain, both parties within the relationship must have equal or greater than utility than they otherwise would have outside of the marriage. Marriage will sustain even when utility is equal to that of when outside of marriage due to the costs of divorce such as legal cost and rehousing et cetera. This leads us to the bargaining game theory model as discussed by Lundberg and Pollak (1996), which helps us identify why and at what point will the parties in the relationship cooperative and fail to cooperate. The bargaining model is an approach to understanding how resources are divided within a household, and how changes in circumstances change the allocation of resources. Using this model, we will be able to find a unique pareto optimal Nash bargaining solution in which we cannot make someone better off without making someone else worse off.

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The bargaining power of each party of the household is determined by his or her threat point, which is the maximal level of well-being or utility that each would attain if the couple cannot reach an agreement within their marriage. The initial value of one's threat point is arbitrary as it is the relative threat point of oneself to their partner that gives us information. The divorce threat point is the point at which an individual's utility would be higher outside of marriage. In this model, if women have a high utility associated with their divorce threat point, they would have more bargaining power in the relationship. Higher bargaining power would directly translate to the second aspect discussed by Weaver et al. (2009) in which women would find it easier to leave their partner by being more self-sufficient. To analyse the likelihood of women having a higher bargaining power we must look at data associated with female participation in the labour market. Traditionally, men are the primary earner in the relationship while women are more inclined to household production such as cooking, cleaning and childcare. But in recent times, women's labour force participation has increased. Data from the Reserve Bank of Australia (2018) has shown a steady increase in labour force participation for women aged 25 to 54. This would, in turn, allow women to have a higher personal budget and utility, giving them higher bargaining power in their relationship. In order for marriage to sustain, males have to give women more utility and incentive to stay in the relationship, which would reduce the tolerance of domestic abuse for women.

There are also external factors that lead to a reduction in domestic violence. Easing divorce laws occurred in the 1970s within many major western countries. Australia pushed forward The Family Law Act of 1975, which repealed an early law that forced marital couples to have proof of a matrimonial offence such as adultery, cruelty or desertion (Australian Institute of Family Studies [AIFS], 2006). The introduction of no-fault divorce increased the number of divorces in Australia from 7 per 1,000 marriages to 19 per 1,000 marriages. Although domestic violence would appear under cruelty for matrimonial offence, proof of the offence may have been hard to collect and present for women. The introduction of the no-fault divorce law allowed women to follow through with a divorce without having explicit evidence of domestic abuse, and overall gave them more bargaining power within the relationship and increase their threat point.

Historically, women have had lower opportunities for work and have had smaller wages compared to their male counterparts. In 1984, the Sex Discrimination Act was pushed forward in Australia to have sex discrimination and sexual harassment against the law, which would provide women with more equal rights (Australian Human Rights Commission [AHRC], 2018). The passing of this law increased women's ability to participate in the labour market and feel so doing so. Although this law has helped women work towards a higher economic status, the historical patriarchy is still prevalent within the workplace. Employers may explicitly not hire a woman due to her sex, but still may implicitly do so without consequences. This may be due to the cost of women having a child and being on maternity leave or quitting after training to start a family. Employers may see that hiring women has a higher opportunity cost than hiring men. The empowerment of females being able to work towards a higher personal economic status increases her bargaining power, which in turn would allow her to become more self-sufficient and leave a possibly abusive relationship. The Sex Discrimination Act also legally alleviates the blockades in place where the male in the relationship may suppress the earning capabilities of the female in order to keep her in the abusive relationship.

The link between women's economic status and domestic violence is explicit and is evident through many databases and research papers. Although data does not suggest a direct causality between a higher economic status and rates of domestic violence, we can explain the link between them through the use of the bargaining game theory model. As society shifts away from historical standards of who is the primary earner within a relationship, we are gaining more evidence in support of the link to domestic violence. The reduction of social stigmas and increased equality between men and women have provided many pathways to reduce the occurrence of domestic violence. The research of economic status and domestic violence will be furthered in the future to include same-sex marriages due to the attitudes of society towards these socioeconomic issues becoming more relaxed.

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