Interpersonal Partner Violence in Adolescence: Bad Boyfriends Contribute to Women’s Poverty

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Studies show that women (including mothers) who have experience violence have less income. Image by manuere.

Studies show that women (including mothers) who have experience violence have less income. Image by manuere.

The term “domestic violence” may bring to mind a beefy man wearing a “wife-beater” shirt.  But what if the “man” in question is young, maybe teenaged, and what if the female victim is a teenager too?

What effect does interpersonal partner violence (IPV) have on the life trajectory of young women, particularly in terms of education, employment and earnings?

Those are the questions that Dr. Adrienne Adams set out to answer.  Dr. Adams is an assistant professor of ecological/community psychology at Michigan State University.

Women’s Employment Study: 1997

Dr. Adams and colleagues looked at data collected by the 1997 Women’s Employment Study, which collected information about the lives of female welfare recipients.

Questions were asked about a variety of potential barriers to work such as depression, mental health, general health, alcohol and drug dependence, home literacy as well as domestic violence. The purpose of the original 1997 study was to “is to examine how the presence of any one of these barriers or combination of barriers affects a recipient’s response to new welfare program mandates.”  Of particular interest was the Welfare to Work mandate.

Of 498 women who completed all phases of the  study, 16% reported that they had experienced interpersonal partner violence as an adolescent.  The paper states, “For example, respondents were asked whether a romantic partner had ever “pushed, grabbed, or shoved you”; “hit you with his fist”; “threatened to harm, or harmed, your family or friends”; “forced you into any sexual activity against your will”; and “harassed you at work, training, or school or interfered with your attempts to go to work, training, or school.””

Examining the Data: Interpersonal Partner Violence and Work

Sadly, studies show that women exposed to interpersonal violence at a young age are less likely (or able) to pursue education, thus lessening their ability to increase their income. Image by hmm360.

Sadly, studies show that women exposed to interpersonal violence at a young age are less likely (or able) to pursue education, thus lessening their ability to increase their income. Image by hmm360.

Women in the study reported having six to sixteen years of education. All of the women had children and were enrolled in TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

By analyzing the data, Dr. Adams found that “Adolescent IPV was negatively related to educational attainment. On average, women who were victimized during adolescence obtained 0.5 fewer years of education… Educational attainment was significantly positively related to annual earnings and growth in earnings over time .”  Additionally,  she found, “a significant indirect effect between adolescent IPV and women’s earnings and women’s growth in earnings over the 4-year study.

In other words, as a group, women who were traumatized as adolescents obtained half a year less of education and made less money, even after four years.  Since these women were receiving welfare, the critical education that they missed may well have been the classes needed to obtain a high school diploma.

Since researchers originally collected the data in 1997, is it possible that the prevalence of IPV had changed since that time? Dr. Adams told Decoded Science, “I can not say whether IPV has increased in severity since that period.”  However, she provided the following information, “National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey from 2010 showed 35.6% of women reported violence by an intimate partner.

While Dr. Adams notes that violence may have been measured differently in each study,  IPV appears to be as much, or more, of a problem now as in 1997.

Abuse in Relationships: Preventing Violence and Treating Trauma

Once trauma occurs, treatment can help lessen the impact. Dr. Adams favors programs such as trauma informed counseling at employment centers… But preventing trauma is better yet.

In an exclusive interview with Decoded Science, Dr. Adams stated, “I believe we need school-based prevention and interventions in the form of educational-support programs and advocacy. The Center for Disease Control funds IPV prevention programs. The U.S Department of Health and Human Services could assist with intervention efforts.”

Protecting teenagers from inter-personal violence can help protect the women they become, and the children they raise, from a life of poverty and dependency.

Resources

Adams, A. et al. The Effects of Adolescent Intimate Partner Violence on Women’s Educational Attainment and Earnings. (2013). The Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Accessed September 5, 2013.

Black, W. et al. National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report(2011). National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Accessed September 5, 2013.

Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. The Women’s Employment Study. (2013). Accessed September 5, 2013.

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