Does Marriage Reduce Domestic Violence?

There has been a lot of media coverage recently about domestic violence.  The video of the now former Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice, knocking out his fiance in an elevator in Atlantic City was shocking and has helped to launch a national discussion on the issue.  While initially slow to respond, the NFL has jumped in with both feet and is now running Public Service Announcements featuring players in partnership with the organization  The PSAs, along with the media coverage, have helped to shine a spotlight on the issue and will hopefully challenge more men to speak up when women are abused.


I wanted to go beyond the headlines and dig deeper into the data to understand the trends on domestic abuse.  The Bureau of Justice Statistics (a division of the U.S. Justice Department) conducts an annual National Crime Victimization Survey of 90,000 households which includes data on domestic violence.  They have published data on intimate partner violence and broken it down by different demographic categories.  There is some good news and some bad news.  The good news is that intimate partner violence is trending down.  The nearby graph shows that rate of violence has fallen from 16.9 per 1,000 females in 1994 to 5.9 per 1,000 females in 2010.

Average Intimate Partner Violence Against Females

It’s encouraging that this violence is trending down, but as a society we should have a zero tolerance policy against men beating up women.  As you can see, the rate of decline has slowed in recent years so we need to do more to make progress in this area.


The bad news is that the rate of violence for single women with children is more than 10 times higher than the rate for married women.  The nearby chart shows both trends.

Intimate Partner Violence Against Females by Household Composition

By 2010, the rate for married women with children had fallen to 2.5 per 1,000 while the rate for single women with children remained stubbornly high at 31.7 per 1,000.  What is the cause of this?  It’s very difficult to prove causality without a controlled experiment.  Of course we could never conduct a controlled experiment where we chose two similar populations and insisted one get married while the other remained single and both had children.  Like many other societal problems, education and income are likely to be contributing factors.  But it is clear there is a significant difference between married and single women with children.  It is reasonable, therefore, to conclude that marriage has a positive impact in reducing domestic violence against women.  We could create some hypothesis as to why this is, but we’ll leave that to social scientists who can conduct deeper analysis.


How should we respond?  It’s clear that intimate partners who view their sexual relationship with a woman as temporary are more likely to be abusive than those that have committed to permanancy of marriage.  Therefore, we need to continue to challenge the idea that it’s okay for men to treat women as temporary sex objects.  We have to push back against sexual narcissism.  We need to promote a culture where men pursue women with an intent to marry rather than an intent to use and dispose.  We need to challenge men to treat women the way they would want their daughters treated.  Men do not want their daughters used as sex objects.  They want their daughters pursued by serious men who are interested marriage.  Let’s challenge each other to be serious men.