Higher status than one’s partner makes both men, women vulnerable to intimate partner violence

ScienceDaily 5 March 2014
Having a higher income or education than your partner could be risky, as a higher socio-economic status than ones partner increases the chance of psychological violence and abuse. This applies to both men and women.  

New research on violence and relationships does not support the stereotypical pattern of strong men in powerful positions who abuse their weaker, female partner. “Whenever power is unevenly allocated in a relationship the chance of physical and psychological abuse increases. And the abused partner is the one with the highest status,” says sociologist Heidi Fischer Bjelland. According to the sociologist this applies both to men and women. Bjelland is a PhD student at The Norwegian Police University College and she has previously carried out research on intimate partner violence in Norway. In her article En voldsom maktbalanse? En studie av relativ makt og forekomst av partnervold (“A fierce power balance? A study of relative power and intimate partner violence”), Bjelland presents her analysis of a survey carried out by Statistics Norway in 2003/2004. Bjelland has examined survey replies from 1640 men and 1791 women who live with their partners. The participants have answered questions relating to whether they have experienced physical partner violence such as strangling and flat hand slapping, and psychological abuse such as threats of physical violence, jealous behavior and freedom restriction.

Both men and women with a higher status than their partner have an increased risk of experiencing psychological abuse or controlling partners, but women with a higher income than their partner also have an increased risk of experiencing physical abuse: “Their risk of experiencing both physical and psychological violence increases with the difference in income,” says Bjelland.

Men also affected
The study shows that men with a higher income or education than their partner have an increased risk of experiencing psychological abuse and control. However, men do not face the same risk of experiencing physical abuse.

“Previous studies have looked primarily at physical abuse. They have also included some types of psychological violence such as control and threats of physical violence, but they have not distinguished these psychological acts of violence as a category in itself. When I distinguish between psychological and physical acts of violence, the psychological factor is becoming much clearer and the results become more nuanced,” says the researcher.

One of the finds particularly surprised Bjelland: “The fact that men with a higher socio-economic status than their partner have an increased risk of experiencing abuse in their relationships was very surprising, since it conflicts with international studies within the same field.” She emphasizes the Norwegian gender equality as a possible explanation. “Perhaps this indicates that, in today’s Norway, women won’t accept being without power as a result of having a lower socio-economic status than their partner.” “On the other hand, few studies have examined men’s risk of abuse earlier, which may be an explanation as to why these finds are so new and surprising.” According to Bjelland, previous studies of intimate partner violence have often excluded men from the data material. “There has been a strikingly unbalanced focus on women and what consequences their experiences of intimate partner violence might have for them.”