Economics vs Sociology: A Case Study On Domestic Violence


The United Nations defines violence against women as “any act of gender based violence that results in physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering  including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty,  whether occurring in public or private life.” Increasing cases of domestic  violence is a major public health crisis and a violation of basic human rights,  something that must be tackled by bringing the culprits face to face with the  law. Domestic violence, in particular, carry the risk of going unnoticed thus  giving leeway to those who engage in it with ease. The most common form of  domestic violence, according to population-based survey reports by the UN is  ‘intimate-partner violence’. Over a quarter of women between ages 15-49 who  have been in relationships have been victims of physical/sexual domestic  abuse at least once in their lifetime. According to another survey by the Office  for National Statistics (ONS) 2018, 6% of the UK population between the  same age range had been estimated to be victims of domestic violence with  an average of 5495 cases per day. Unfortunately, for every 100 victims, only  3-4 of the perpetrators is convicted.  

Figure: Data for domestic violence for adults aged 16-50, by type of abuse.  Source: Crime Survey for England and Wales, Office for National Statistics, 2018.  

So is this preventable? The answer is yes. A good starting point would be to  identify the measures of domestic violence and implement relevant policies  centered around those parameters to address not just the core issue, but the  economic/social reasons for which it prevails. A second way would be for the  government to bring in harsh laws for domestic violence and conduct fast 

track enquiries so that the conviction rate builds up. Psychological pressures

and fear of imprisonment for life might succeed in inducting good behavior.  Finally, the health and family welfare sectors have an important role to play in  this. Provision of comprehensive health care to the victims would be a useful  way for referring them to other support services they need, for example,  government managed schemes or NGOs.  

Indirect Measures of Domestic Violence  

Usually, it is not possible to conduct research plus gather data from observing  violence directly in a household. This ‘observability problem’ is primarily why  indirect channels have to be used to identify domestic violence by assessing  past histories of criminal activity, family backgrounds, socio-economic status  etc., for policy implementation. 3 forms of indirect measures are police  administrative records, hospital administrative records and survey data.  

(a) Police reported violence (administrative data) 


• Provides accurate recording after detailed investigations, victim  statements and potential witness testimonies across long periods of  time.  

• Information files usually contains minute details of every household in  every neighborhood, so makes the job of monitoring easier.  


• Police will be aware of only those cases that are actually reported. As  mentioned earlier, compelled silence makes a greater number of cases  go unnoticed.  

• Difficult to interpret increases/decreases or differences across  populations. 

• Data availability may vary occasionally with the variable of interest.  • Police documenting might change with the official definition of domestic  violence i.e., what constitutes as abuse and what doesn’t.  

(b) Hospital reporting (administrative data) 


• Consistency efficiently maintainable because of the health and well being support for the victims.  

• Does not rely at all times on self-reporting by victims. Physical and  mental examination of victims is a giveaway.  


• Only captures relatively extreme measures of violence since the milder  cases might not require hospital care or choose silence.  

• Measure is also likely to reflect non-intimate partner violence.  • Difficult to link with other data. Analysis must be done at the population  level instead of random sampling.  

(c) Survey evidence 

Pros: Dependence on government verified and regularly updated data source  websites like Crime Survey, Office for National Statistics, World Health  Organization etc. These institutions can be asked direct and indirect questions  on the nature, types and prevalence of violence, information that will guide  civil servants in cases.  


• Surveys rely on ‘truthful’ self-reporting, an aspect with marginal  potential for error.  

• There can be systematic bias in misreporting and participation, which  will slant the analysis.  

• Collecting population data and conducting research on the same is an  expensive and time-consuming method.  

Economics versus Sociology  

Criminologists and sociologists have largely dominated research into the field  of domestic violence, its causes, nature and prevention. So what do  economists bring to the table? Relative to other disciplines in social sciences  and public health, economists take scientific methodology very seriously.  Ample time is spent on understanding what to estimate, how to estimate it,  build theories on those estimations and finally, apply empirical formulas to test  those theories. A primary way of synthesizing the 2 branches of economics  and sociology is to relate the concept of ‘Male Backlash’ with the ‘Household  Bargaining Model’ to judge gender gaps and subsequent differences in  earnings as a cause for domestic abuse.  

Theory of Male Backlash: This theory describes a situation whereby an  increase in the wife’s earnings and consequent independence challenges the  socially prescribed norm of male dominance in a household. Men therefore,  use violence (not restricted to physical only, but mental and verbal too) as a  means of “reasserting authority” over their wife. An increase in women’s  wages relative to men that brings down the gender wage gap or keeps them  at par with them on the pay scale leads to a consequential rise in exploitation. 

This sociological theory, however, ignores some important trade-offs. – As the wife’s earnings rise, overall consumption capabilities of the  household rise too. 

– A husband’s ability to assert dominance over his wife is a function of  the wife’s outside options as well. As abuse increases, the wife will  start looking for extramarital affair options elsewhere. 

So between consuming more goods and services and maintaining household  authority, the misogynist man will choose the latter, an important factor of  violence.  Theory of Household Bargaining with violence: This economical theory  explores the relationship between earnings and household violence. The

husband and wife each receive utility from increased individual and shared  consumption. While the misogynist husband receives additional utility or  ‘satisfaction’ from imposing exploitation, the wife receives disutility from it.  Hence, the couple “bargains” over the level of consumption for each 

(constrained by the household income) and the level of violence. In this  model, both partners either choose to remain in the relationship or leave. The  earnings of each are equal to the resources they will have if they break away.  The dynamics of the household bargaining model can be explained simply as  the following.  

 Uw (Cw, 1-V) and Uh (Ch, V)  


Uw, Uh = utility derived by the wife and husband respectively Cw, Ch = consumption component for the wife and husband respectively  V = household violence  

I= household income 

a = wife’s portion of household income  

The partners either choose to stay or leave as mentioned earlier so therefore  if one chose the latter, they would each take their respective contributions to  the household income i.e., a and (1-a).  

Assuming zero violence outside the relationship:  

• If the wife’s total utility gained from elsewhere > household utility, she  will leave; Uw (Cw, 1-V) < Uw (aI). 

• The husband’s utility preferences in the same manner. If Uh (Ch, V) <  Uh ((1-a)I), he will leave.  Assuming a growth in the wife’s portion of household income i.e., a’ > a and  no corresponding change in V or Cw, even then she is better off leaving. This  model therefore, explains the improvement in the wife’s outside options once  earning capacity increases. In this way, her ‘bargaining power’ within the

relationship also rises.  

Systematic versus Triggered Violence 

The nature of harm looked at until now is mostly termed as ‘systematic’ because it describes the relationship between dynamics in the economic  environment and exploitation. However, violence can be “triggered” as well. A  majority of such incidents happen due to one-time or on-off upsetting events  such as a bad day at work, disturbing news or even one’s favorite sports team  losing. Rather than a preference for the level of violence, this model looks at  the perpetrators “losing control”.  

Economists David Card and Gordon Dahl conducted a popular research using  the National Football League (NFL) games to study the impact of unexpected  upsetting events on family violence. Their methodology included  “hypothesizing the risk of violence as affected by the gain-loss utility  associated with game outcomes around a rationally expected reference  point”. 

Why NFL? 

The NFL games were chosen as an area of interest for 3 main reasons. 

– NFL fans are highly supportive of their local teams.  

– The existence of an established betting network provides information  on the expected outcome of each match. This would be the ‘reference  point’ for gain-loss utility.  

– The outline of the NFL and availability of detailed game figures makes  it convenient to identify more or less prominent matches and to guess  the winning chances of a team midway.  

Key results 

– Upset losses by the home team led to a 10% increase in the number of  police reports of male-on-female domestic violence, concentrated in a  narrow time window around the end of the game.  

– Losses when the game was expected to be a close match have no  significant effect of violence.  

– Upset wins have no noteworthy impact on the rate of abuse as well.

A recent study on triggered violence particularly based on Card’s example of  sports outcomes was published citing alarming cases in England, UK. The  UK’s National Centre for Domestic Violence initiated a campaign with the  tagline “If England gets beaten, so will she” to educate the masses on how the  repercussions of a loss in a match signals a ritual of brutality unleashed on  women and children who bear the brunt of the team’s loss. According to data,  cases registered for abuse increased by over 38% on days when England’s  National team lost and over 26% if they drew. Furthermore, figures from  England’s games in 2002, 2006 and 2010 during the World Cup showed that  incidences of violence were 11% higher post matches. In disturbing situations  such as these, as much as outcomes trigger the level of violence, the  patriarchal attitude and the inherent belief of criminals that exploitation is the  right way to compensate for a loss will remain whatsoever. If not sports, any  other event will play part.  


Violence and domestic violence, to be precise, does not see barriers of age,  gender, wealth, caste etc. It can be found everywhere and victims can be  male or female, young or old, rich or poor, politically affiliated or not. To bring  about concrete changes in tackling it requires a long-term commitment that  society and government would have to jointly intervene in. In the short-run,  immediate relief and assistance to victims should be the agenda while in the  long run, governments must introduce laws that foster human rights, equality  and anti-prohibit punishment. Of course this humungous task is not a one-day  job with only one approach to it. Sensitive issues like these that are  recognized nationally and internationally as a basic human rights violation  require careful and strategic planning and execution to it. There cannot be any  loopholes in awareness and prevention campaigns and hence, it might be  pertinent to involve those who can reach greater masses at a time. For  example, the media, NGOs, activists, educationists and the likes of them.  Crime prevention is for one, for all.  


World Health Organization, 9th March 2021, Violence against women.  Available from: against-women 

United Nations, 1993, Strategies for confronting domestic violence: a resource  manual. Available from: e.pdf 

Office for National Statistics, 2018, Domestic Abuse in England and Wales.  Available from: ins/domesticabuseinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2018 

Aizer, A., (2010), The Gender Wage Gap and Domestic Violence, American  Economic Review, 100, 1847-1859. Available from: 

Card, D., and G. Dahl, 2011. Family Violence and Football: The effect of  unexpected emotional cues on violent behavior. Quarterly Journal of  Economics, 126, 103-143. Available from: 

Essay: When football goes home, July 9th 2021, Feminist Giant. Available  from:

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