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Is There a Relationship Between Domestic Abuse and Gender Wage Gap?


The gender wage gap in America is an ongoing subject of heated debate. As women fight for their right to earn the same amounts as men for the same jobs, one argument that is recently cropped up on behalf of working women is the relationship between domestic abuse and the gender wage gap. A co-author of The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in the United States, Vivian Riefberg, advocates that women who suffer violence stunt their earning potential due to lost workdays and productivity.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women ages 18 and older suffer about 5.3 million incidents of intimate partner violence every year. Intimate partner violence victims lose about 8 million days of paid work as a result of abuse and about 5.6 million days of household productivity. McKinsey & Company, the brand responsible for the report by Riefberg et al., used these CDC statistics to conclude that domestic violence against women costs the U.S. about $4.9 billion per year. Thirty percent of this cost is attributable to lost earnings and lost productivity.

Domestic violence often translates into performance issues in the workplace. Physical, mental, and psychological abuse can prevent a woman from going to work entirely. It can also cause depression, anxiety, loss of concentration, and other adverse outcomes that can affect workplace productivity. A woman who has been physically abused may come up with excuses for her injuries, such as “falling down the stairs.” Unfortunately, most employers see this as signs of an unreliable employee, not of domestic abuse.

One way an abuser may control a woman is through her finances. An abuser may time his attacks to purposefully sabotage his partner’s chances of workplace success. For instance, the abuse might verbally attack his partner right before an important work meeting. He may also show up or call his partner’s workplace to harass her. This makes the woman look unprofessional and hurts her chances of securing a raise or promotion. If an abused woman loses her job, it is often more difficult for her to secure another job, exacerbating the problem.

Bargaining Power and Abuse Perpetuation

Studies have found that a woman’s relative wage and potential for earning determine her bargaining power in an abusive relationship. Surveys show that disadvantaged women with annual incomes below $10,000 face a risk of abuse that is five times higher than women who earn at least $30,000. Research on the connection between domestic violence and wages show that when men feel a lack of dominance due to a woman’s earning capacity, they may make up for it in domestic violence. However, research also shows that women who earn more money are more likely to have the leverage to leave an abusive relationship.

Decreases in the gender wage gap could ultimately reduce domestic violence against women. If women earned as much as men, they could feasibly increase their bargaining power and reduce levels of violence. Studies prove this theory by connecting the decline in domestic abuse between 1990 and 2003 with reductions in the gender wage gap. These findings are inconsistent with the idea that men “backlash” against women who earn more money. As women’s earnings increase, violence against women decreases. Thus, there is a marked need for the gender wage gap to close in order to reduce the number of women facing domestic abuse.

Closing the gender wage gap will also improve child outcomes. Since studies show that domestic violence negatively affects children, its reduction would have important inter-generational effects. Closing the gender wage gap would do much more than simply even the playing field between male and female workers; it would have the power to reduce domestic violence and ultimately change the future.