The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Shacking Up, Squaring Off


Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson


Around the world—in Peru and Thailand, in São Paulo and Tokyo—women who marry are much less likely to suffer the trauma of domestic abuse than are peers who cohabit outside of wedlock. Documenting yet again the protective effects of marriage, a team of researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and from the International Centre for Research on Women in Washington, D.C., recently examined World Health Organization data on intimate-partner violence [IPV] collected in fifteen sites in ten widely scattered countries—Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, Japan, Namibia, Peru, the Republic of Tanzania, Samoa, Serbia and Montenegro, and Thailand. These data clearly show that marriage shields women around the globe and that non-marital cohabitation exposes women to harm.

After poring over survey results collected from 15,207 women living in the ten countries in question, the researchers highlighted “wide variations in the prevalence of IPV,” with rates of reported violence in the year prior to the survey ranging from 4 percent to 54 percent. Despite these wide variations, the researchers identified “many factors [that] affected IPV risk similarly across sites.” As one of those factors: “formal marriage offered protection,” the researchers report. On the other hand, the researchers found that, among other factors, “cohabitation . . . [and] having outside sexual partners . . . increased the risk of IPV.”

The numbers clearly indicate the protection women enjoy when they are married and the danger they experience when they are cohabiting: in support of their finding that “women who were cohabiting with a partner without being formally married were at increased risk of IPV,” the researchers cite survey data from ten out of twelve sites aligning with this pattern, with the Odds Ratios for three of these sites reaching the threshold of statistical significance.

Further analysis of the data revealed that women who were living with children from previous relationships were at particular risk compared to women with no children from a previous relationship (data from twelve of fourteen sites indicating an elevated risk, with Odds Ratios for two of these sites satisfying the criteria for statistical significance). The peril for women ran even higher if they were living with a man who engaged in “relationships with other women during their relationship”: when the researchers compared the incidence of IPV among such women with the incidence among women with faithful partners, they found a statistically significant Odds Ratio in fourteen out of fifteen sites.

Also of interest is the finding that, “compared to couples in which both partners work, couples where just the man works appear to experience slightly lower IPV levels of in some settings,” with data from eight out of fourteen sites showing this lower level of domestic violence among couples following these conventional gender roles and with the Odds Ratios for two of these sites reaching statistical significance.

In commenting on their findings, the researchers reason, “Although there is no magic bullet to reduce partner violence, the consistency of our findings across sites suggests that a prevention strategy, once validated and refined, might have relevance in a wide range of settings.” Since the protective effects of wedlock and the perilous effects of cohabitation stand out among the consistent findings, it would appear that any sane prevention strategy would incorporate measures to reinforce marriage and to discourage cohabitation.

Unfortunately, the researchers—no doubt in the grip of the progressive ideology that now governs academe—apparently cannot read their own study. For in opposing “male behaviours commonly associated with ‘traditional’ masculinity,” the researchers call for more efforts “to engage with men and women to challenge norms around what is expected of, and deemed acceptable behaviour for both men and women.” Of course, if challenging moral norms inevitably means weakening, not reinforcing wedlock, it also means multiplying the number of couples living in non-marital cohabiting unions, bringing on the tragic consequences that are all too clear in the very numbers these ideologically schizophrenic researchers report.

(Tanya Abramsky et al., “What Factors are Associated with Recent Intimate Partner Violence? Findings from the WHO Multi-Country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence,” BMC Public Health 11 [February 16, 2011]: 109.)

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