Researchers at the University of Iowa have found an association between financial stress and severe domestic abuse, which is an important step in the effort to develop effective interventions. Their findings don’t prove that one leads to the other, but they do affirm the complexity of domestic violence.
“What we don’t know yet is whether financial stress makes a violent couple more violent, or is financial stress enough of a disruption in a relationship that violence begins?” says Dr. Corinne Peek-Asa, a corresponding author and director of the Injury Prevention Research Center at the UI College of Health. “Both are plausible.”
What researchers did discover is more women than men report experiencing financial stressors; more women than men also report lashing out verbally and physically at their partners. But that doesn’t necessarily mean women are more likely than men to respond to financial stressors with violence.
Like relationships themselves, teasing out cause and effect is complicated.
Though researchers aren’t ready to identify specific interventions for couples that are struggling with finances and domestic abuse, they are beginning to see that stressors beyond health, such as financial strain or unstable housing, may be at the root of some health-related problems.
The study, “Association of financial stressors and physical intimate partner violence perpetration,” was published March 1 online in Injury Epidemiology.
Peek-Asa says the study comes at an important time, when more people than ever have access to health care because of the Affordable Care Act, which requires all hospitals to conduct a community needs assessment and increase efforts to refer patients to community resources.
That could mean expanding the scope of what doctors typically consider health-related stress, from things such as being overweight, smoking, and drinking, to include such stressors as food insecurity, unpaid bills, and eviction.
“Although hospitals aren’t quite there yet, some of the most important health needs of patients are things like housing, employment services, and financial consulting — things that could reduce financial stress and potentially reduce intimate partner violence,” says Dr. Peek-Asa.