Domestic assault correlated with "community disinvestment", nonmarriage/divorce, other factors

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Family Research Abstract of the Week: Black Women in Peril

Reprinted from The Howard Center / World Congress of Families Family Update Online, Volume 5 Issue 20,18 May 2004

When wedding bells stop ringing in urban churches, sirens often start wailing as ambulances rush to the hospital carrying women-often African American women-injured by live-in lovers. The role of the national retreat from wedlock in imperiling black women stands out starkly in a new study recently published in Criminology by researchers from the University of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky University.

Examining court data for Hamilton County (Cincinnati), Ohio, the authors of the new study trace "intimate assaults" against women back to social conditions created by "neighborhood disadvantage" and community "disinvestment."&nbsp; In showing that both "neighborhood disadvantage" and "disinvestment" predict intimate assault (p < .001 and p < .01 respectively), the researchers indirectly underscore the effects of family disintegration, for as statistical social composites both "neighborhood disadvantage" and "disinvestment" tap into the effects of wedlock, cohabitation, and divorce. More specifically, the formula for "neighborhood disadvantage" includes numbers for the proportion of households with children with no adult male, while the formula for community "disinvestments" incorporates numbers for the proportion of private residences without married couples and the ratio of single adults to married adults.

Although the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky scholars find that "higher levels of neighborhood disadvantage coincide with significantly higher assault rates for both whites and African Americans," they conclude that "level of disinvestments is more important for understanding variation in intimate assault rates for African Americans." In other words, "neighborhoods with larger portions of adults who are less 'invested' in marriage and residential stability are more likely to see higher rates of assault by African-American males."

Further scrutiny of the data reveals that "the proportion of residents without married couples... maintains the strongest relationship with intimate assault rates for African Americans (by far) compared to the other two components of the disinvestments factor [i.e., ratio of single to married and proportion of residents with the same residence less than five years]."&nbsp; Apparently, the researchers write, "the lower prevalence of intact marriages across neighborhood residences is more important than transiency of a neighborhood population when predicting African- American assault rates."&nbsp; Because cohabiting couples are especially numerous in the African-American neighborhoods with few married couples, the authors of the study suggest that "neighborhoods with higher proportions of cohabiting intimates who are not 'invested' in marriage may constitute environments more conducive to assaults among African Americans (relative to whites)."

At a time when many social scientists are emphasizing the importance of "social capital" as a predictor of healthy community life, the authors of the new study warn that "lower levels of marital commitments and stable residences constitute...significant barriers to the development of social capital among minorities."&nbsp;&nbsp;

(Source: John Wooldredge and Amy Thistlethwaite, "Neighborhood Structure and Race-Specific Rates of Intimate Assault," Criminology 41 [2003]: 393- 418.)

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