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News : Owning a home together may help curb marital violence

Community property laws may decrease domestic violence incidents. (Unsplash/Adam Bouse)


Three economists have proposed a new theoretical framework that may help researchers understand the connection between domestic violence and property ownership — and design policies to reduce abuse.

In an upcoming article in Review of Economics of the Household, the economists argue that married heterosexual couples jointly owning property rather than leaving possessions under the sole control of either the husband or the wife could decrease domestic violence worldwide, and especially in developing countries, where co-ownership is less common. 

“We felt that many women who experience domestic violence, particularly in developing countries, they are forced to tolerate it because they have nowhere to go,” co-author Emin Gahramanov, an economist at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, told The Academic Times in an interview. “We thought that giving women some independent ownership over the property would empower them and reduce their experience of domestic violence and abuse.”  

However, Gahramanov and his American University of Sharjah colleagues Khusrav Gaibulloev and Javed Younas also contended that placing a married couple’s property solely under the woman’s control could cause resentment from the man, leading in turn to increased domestic violence. Their theory is bolstered by empirical data from a recent working paper the three economists wrote using data from Latin America.  

“The results show that a woman’s sole property ownership is not associated with less domestic violence against her; sometimes the correlation is even positive,” wrote Gahramanov, Gaibulloev and Younas in the working paper. “However, married women who co-own the property are less likely to face domestic abuse by husbands.” 

In order to develop the theory that joint ownership of property is the optimal system for reducing domestic violence, the three economists borrowed from the work of San Diego State University economist Shoshana Grossbard, who also edits Review of Economics of the Household

In particular, the economists used Grossbard’s “Work-In-Household” model, which conceptualizes marriages as economic arrangements between men and women. Under these arrangements, Grossbard says that women can engage in more household labor than men in exchange for men sharing money and property they earn through outside work. This transfer constitutes a “quasi wage,” Grossbard contends. 

Under the three economists’ extension of this model, women who are the sole owners of property in their marriages may feel more financially secure and thus be less incentivized to provide household labor. These women then may, in turn, be more likely to face domestic violence from their husbands to force them into providing household labor. That’s why joint property ownership may provide the best balance to both empower women and minimize domestic violence against them, the economists contended. 

Grossbard, who accepted Gahramanov, Gaibulloev and Younas’ paper for publication in her journal, spoke highly of the way the three economists applied her model.   

“I like this article by Emin and his colleagues because it addresses an important question: Why do we expect domestic violence to be related to how couples hold their assets?” said Grossbard in an email to The Academic Times. “It raises the hope that by changing legal regimes regarding ownership of a home, or other assets, societies can possibly bring a reduction in domestic violence.”

She added that she appreciated the article’s theoretical nature because, “Most economic research on domestic violence tends to focus on statistical analysis and lacks theoretical insights.” 

The theoretical nature of the paper leaves plenty of room for additional empirical research, the economists said. 

“I think this hypothesis of the relationship can be tested, and in fact we encourage it to be tested, using data for different regions,” said Gaibulloev. He said that, in an ideal study, researchers would identify a policy change that encourages property co-ownership in a given region and study domestic violence levels before and after the policy went into effect. 

Gahramanov added that researchers studying the issue would benefit from collecting additional survey data from subjects on when property was acquired and by which spouse, how assets would be divided under a given region’s divorce laws and whether the subjects lived in rural or urban settings. 

All three co-authors lived in different countries prior to coming to the U.A.E. to teach, which they said helped inform their theoretical models. 

Younas, for example, earned his Ph.D. from West Virginia University and worked as a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and as a fellow at Harvard University prior to joining the American University of Sharjah. When he spoke to The Academic Times, he was calling in from Pakistan, where he was conducting fieldwork for a paper on the distribution of coronavirus vaccines. The other authors have similarly international backgrounds. 

“The main difference is the way societies encourage their sisters, their wives to take independent decisions, starting from education to marriage, where to live and where to go,” said Younas. “In [some] developing countries like Pakistan, those decisions are dictated, are imposed.” 

The economists also acknowledged that, especially when studying domestic violence, working in a team composed of solely men could limit their perspectives. Gaibulloev said that he incorporated ideas from his wife, who also has a Ph.D., into the study. 

“I got some ideas from my wife, some different perspectives, what may be a relevant variable,” he said. 

Younas added that the American University of Sharjah’s economics department is composed of 16 men and just two women, making it difficult to do research in gender-balanced groups. 

The paper, titled “Women’s Type of Property Ownership and Domestic Violence: A Theoretical Note,” is forthcoming in the Review of Economics of the Household. The authors are Emin Gahramanov, Khusrav Gaibulloev and Javed Younas of the American University of Sharjah. 

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