The Role of Education in Intimate Partner Homicides

Karon M. Donahue, Waycross College
Marc Riedel, Southern Illinois University - Carbondale

One of the notable unexplored perspectives in both fatal and nonfatal violence among intimate partners is the role of education. Since the nineteen-eighties, a persistent feature of prevention literature is making available a wide variety of alternatives to remaining in a violent relationship. This not only includes well-publicized prevention programs such as hotlines and women's shelters, but an outpouring of literature designed to inform women about the problem and what can be done about it (Browne, Williams, & Dutton, 1999; Caringella-MacDonald, 1997; Fagan, 1996). If alternatives to remaining in a battering relationship are generally available, it is reasonable to suggest its effect would vary by educational level, that is, intimate partners with higher levels of education would be less often the victims of violence. Research on nonfatal intimate partner violence and education is extremely sparse and the results vary. Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz (1981) noted that it is often assumed that those with a lower amount of education have higher rates of family violence. Their study in 1975 indicated that the highest level of violence were among men and women who were high school graduates, with those having some college education and those who were primary school drop outs having the lowest rates of violence. Women having less than a high school education were most likely to be victimized, while those having some college education were found to be the least likely to be victimized. On the other hand, Walker (2000), in a survey undertaken between 1978 and 1981 of 435 battered women in the Rocky Mountain region found that 40% of the victims had some college education and 23% had a college degree. Tjaden and Thoennes (2000) found that it is the educational differential between intimate partners that is related to violence. In the National Survey of Violence Against Women they used a logistic regression and included two educational variables: whether the respondent had a high school diploma or less and whether the respondent's education level was higher than the partners. The former dropped out of the final model, but the variable indicating differential educational levels was significantly related to violence against women. There are no studies known to the authors of the relationship between education and intimate partner homicides. This is due to the fact that homicide data is taken from the official records of the police departments or the Supplementary Homicide Reports, neither of which collect education information. The purpose of the present study is to analyze the role of education using a newly released data set of homicides in California that probabilistically matches 34,584 law enforcement and medical examiner homicide cases from 1990 through 1999 for a matching rate of 93%. This data set includes detailed information on the educational level of victims, among other variables, as well as variables that are present in law enforcement data.

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Updated 05/20/2006