Whether violation of hypergamy – when the wife’s economic status equals or exceeds that of her husband’s – increases or decreases domestic violence is a priori ambiguous. Analysing 2015-2016 National Family Health Survey data, this article shows that women in non-hypergamous marriages are at least 14% more likely to face domestic violence than those in hypergamous marriages; as husbands in non-hypergamous marriages are more likely to use violence as an instrument to establish authority at home.
Domestic violence affects one in three women in their lifetime, and is the most common form of violence in women’s lives in both developing and developed countries (World Health Organization, 2013). Women who suffer domestic violence experience serious health consequences including injury, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. (Campbell 2002, Coker et al. 2002, Ackerson and Subramanian 2008). The costs of domestic violence to an economy in terms of the victim’s suffering, medical bills, lost productivity, and judicial expenditures is also vast. According to Fearon and Hoeffler (2014), intimate-partner violence costs the world around 5.2% of global GDP (gross domestic product), which is more than 25 times the total cost from conflicts (deaths from wars and terrorism, refugee-related costs, and economic damage). In a recent study (Roychowdhury and Dhamija 2022), we empirically examine a potentially important, but relatively less explored, contributing cause of domestic violence – violation of hypergamy.
Hypergamy and domestic violence: Mechanisms
Hypergamy occurs when in a marital relationship a husband’s economic status systematically exceeds that of his wife, and it is a fundamental tenet of patriarchy (Therborn 2004). Violation of hypergamy – which occurs when the wife’s economic status equals or exceeds that of her husband’s – undermines traditional patriarchal beliefs, norms about gender roles, and dominant perceptions of masculinity such as a ‘man should earn more than his wife’ or a ‘man should be the primary breadwinner in the household’ (Macmillan and Gartner 1999, Bertrand et al. 2015, Baland and Ziparo 2017, Bernard et al. 2020). This could lead to stress, tension, and often severe domestic violence as a form of male backlash (Jewkes 2002, Kaukinen 2004, Atkinson et al. 2005, Vyas and Watts 2009, Weitzman 2014).
Additionally, violation of hypergamy could also increase domestic violence for instrumental reasons. The instrumental theories of domestic violence (Eswaran and Malhotra 2011, Anderberg and Rainer 2013) suggest that if domestic violence is used by the men as an instrument either to extract financial resources from their wives or to sabotage their labour market prospects, then domestic violence is likely to increase with increase in women’s economic status relative to their husbands (henceforth referred to as women’s relative economic status). This is because an increase in women’s relative economic status, and hence violation of hypergamy, is likely to increase the financial resources at their disposal and/or their likelihood of labour market participation. Hence, women who violate hypergamy could be more exposed to domestic violence than their counterparts.
In contrast, theories of intrahousehold bargaining (Tauchen et al. 1991, Farmer and Thiefenthaler 1996) suggest violation of hypergamy could reduce domestic violence. This is because these theories assume that women receive transfers from their husbands in compensation for violence. As women’s relative economic status increases (which is what happens in case of hypergamy violation), the price of violence likewise increases as she requires a larger transfer as compensation for the same level of violence. Knowing this, men should lower the level of violence within the relationship (or the relationship will end). Thus, theoretically speaking, whether violation of hypergamy increases or decreases domestic violence is a priori ambiguous.
To examine how violation of hypergamy affects women’s exposure to domestic violence, we use micro-level survey data from the 2015-16 National Family Health Survey of India (NFHS) – an extremely rich source of information on domestic violence, health, education, labour market indicators, and so on. In particular, the survey provides information on women’s exposure to four types of domestic violence: less severe physical violence, severe physical violence, sexual violence, and emotional violence. Based on this information, we construct our outcome variables. We construct our variable of interest (or treatment variable), violation of hypergamy, utilising information on educational attainment of women and their husbands as observed in the survey. Previous research on hypergamy has also used couple's observed education to measure hypergamy in marital relationships (see, for example, Bouchet-Valat and Dutreuilh 2015, Lin et al. 2020) since individuals' educational attainment is likely to be a reasonably good indicator of individual's potential long-term economic status1.
Identifying the causal effect of violation of hypergamy on women’s exposure to domestic violence is not straightforward because marriage type – whether the marriage is hypergamous or non-hypergamous– is not randomly determined among the population. Even after controlling for characteristics that can be observed in the data, there may remain important unobserved factors that could be correlated with marriage type, and also directly influence women’s exposure to domestic violence. Examples of such unobserved variables include level of patriarchy in women’s natal and marital homes, unobserved ability of women, women’s health conditions, etc. In addition to unobserved variables, reverse causality (that is, domestic violence could impact the likelihood of hypergamy violation) could also be a potential factor complicating causal identification.
To circumvent these identification issues, we use a nonparametric partial identification approach2 (Manski 1995, Manski and Pepper 2000, Pepper 2000). This approach requires weaker (nonparametric) assumptions than those typically employed in traditional instrumental variables (IV)-based methods. Employing this approach, we provide sharp bounds on the average treatment effect (ATE) of hypergamy violation on women’s exposure to domestic violence, when hypergamy violation is non-random. However, as a consequence of having weaker identification assumptions, we obtain bounds rather than point estimates.
Our results show that that hypergamy violation increases the likelihood of a woman facing domestic violence3. Specifically, we find that a woman who is in a non-hypergamous marriage is at least 14% more likely to face at least one type of domestic violence than a woman who is in a hypergamous marriage. Further, we provide suggestive evidence that this result arises because, compared to women who are in hypergamous marriages, women who are in non-hypergamous marriages are more likely to undermine traditional patriarchal beliefs and norms about gender roles. The husbands of the women in non-hypergamous marriages are also more likely to use domestic violence as an instrument to thwart their wives’ labour market prospects and establish authority at home, than the husbands of the women in hypergamous marriages4.
Our findings suggest that policies that seek to reduce domestic violence by empowering women or by promoting gender equality have the potential to backfire, that is, instead of reducing women’s exposure to domestic violence, such policies might paradoxically make them more vulnerable to domestic violence. While our results in no way suggest that such policies should be discarded, they do suggest that for effectively tackling the problem of domestic violence, such policies must be complemented by well-designed interventions that aim at changing gender norms, ‘enforceable’ legislations that offer women legal protection from domestic violence, and removal of restrictions, both social and legal, on women’s access to divorce.
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- While we measure hypergamy violation using couples' observed educational attainment, one could potentially use other alternative variables as well. These include long-term average earnings of husbands and wives, and long-term employment status of husbands and wives. In this study, due to data being unavailable,we are unable to measure hypergamy violation based on couples' average earnings and employment.
- Partial identification in econometrics is an approach to conducting inference on parameters in econometric models that recognizes that identification is not an all-or-nothing concept and that models that do not point identify parameters of interest can, and typically do, contain valuable information about these parameters. This partial identification approach favors the principle that inference based on empirical models with fewer suspect assumptions is more robust, hence more sensible and believable (Tamer 2010)
- The bounds on the ATE of hypergamy violation on women’s exposure to domestic violence are strictly positive and statistically significant.
- Our estimated ATE is, if anything, an underestimate (in the conceptual, not econometric sense, in addition to being a lower bound) of the true scale of ‘potential’ violence in these marriages. The threat of violence, when most effective, does not lead to actual violence – those who face an ‘effective’ threat often change their behaviour in order to avoid it.
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