Research on intimate partner violence (IPV) has progressed in the last decade in the fields of public health and economics, with under-explored potential for cross-fertilisation. We examine the theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches that each discipline uses to conceptualise and study IPV and offer a perspective on their relative advantages. Public health takes a broad theoretical perspective anchored in the socio-ecological framework, considering multiple and synergistic drivers of IPV, while economics focuses on bargaining models which highlight individual power and factors that shape this power. These perspectives shape empirical work, with public health examining multi-faceted interventions, risk and mediating factors, while economics focuses on causal modelling of specific economic and institutional factors and economic-based interventions. The disciplines also have differing views on measurement and ethics in primary research. We argue that efforts to understand and address IPV would benefit if the two disciplines collaborated more closely and combined the best traditions of both fields.
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a major global public health challenge with one in three women ever experiencing lifetime physical and/or sexual IPV (World Health Organization, 2021). In addition to causing physical injury and adverse health outcomes (Bacchus, Ranganathan, Watts, & Devries, 2018), IPV has been associated with adverse social and economic outcomes for women, households and communities (Heise, 2012). In the last decade, significant theoretical and empirical advances have been made (Wu, Chen, Fang, & Wan, 2020) that improve understanding of global IPV prevalence (Devries et al., 2013), underlying drivers (Yakubovich et al., 2018) and prevention (Ellsberg et al., 2015). IPV research has historically been undertaken by public health or feminist scholars, conceptualising IPV as a phenomenon driven by complex socio-ecological factors and using mixed methodologies (Heise, 1998; Jewkes, 2002). In particular, public health researchers often study complex interventions to shift individual attitudes, alongside factors at the community level (e.g., social norms condoning male authority) (Abramsky et al., 2014) or at the interpersonal level (e.g., poor communication, conflict negotiation skills; and alcohol abuse) (Dunkle, Stern, Chatterji, & Heise, 2020). However, IPV is increasingly being studied by diverse disciplines, including economics.
Economic literature on IPV emerged in the early 1990s, with an initial focus on developing and empirically testing theoretical models of the family that conceptualised how interactions between partners could lead to IPV and how economic or institutional factors affect these interactions and hence IPV (Farmer & Tiefenthaler, 1997; Tauchen, Witte, & Long, 1991). These inquiries have gradually expanded to evaluations of how diverse policies, institutions, and economic factors affect IPV, such as employment and wages (Aizer, 2010; Anderberg, Rainer, Wadsworth, & Wilson, 2016), divorce laws (Bowlus & Seitz, 2006), dowry (Bloch & Rao, 2002), or cash and asset transfers (Buller et al., 2018), with a continuing focus on the empirical estimation of quantitative relationships.