A pay rise that means a woman earns more than her male partner increases her chance of domestic violence by 35 per cent, ground-breaking Australian research has revealed, suggesting men struggle to deal with not being the family breadwinner.
Based on surveys done by the Australian Bureau of Statistics over more than a decade, the same research shows as soon as women earn more than half a couple’s income they face a 20 per cent increase in the chance of suffering from emotional abuse.
Previous US research that found a narrowing income gap associated with a drop in domestic violence focused on the most devastating cases where victims ended up in hospital. It was also focused on disadvantaged groups.
But the Australian study, because of its wide-ranging data set over a decade, was able to look at the entire population through de-identified survey responses that also measured one-off or occasional cases of violence. It also took into account cases of emotional abuse.
Researchers Robert Breunig, director of the Tax and Transfer Policy Institute at the Australian National University, and institute fellow Yinjunjie Zhang found across age, income or country of birth, whenever women earned more than their male partner there was a substantial increase in the chance of domestic violence.
“As women’s share of household income increases, but remains below one-half, there is no change in the experience of physical and emotional abuse,” they found.
‘Only when the gender norm is violated do we see an increase in the incidence of physical violence and emotional abuse.’
“Only when the gender norm is violated do we see an increase in the incidence of physical violence and emotional abuse.
“The gender norm story is a strong one that seems to operate consistently across a wide range of demographic characteristics.”
There was no increase in violence or emotional abuse against men in the study as the share of household income between genders changed.
On Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced major changes to the federal ministry, creating new positions including a minister for women’s safety and a minister for women’s economic security.
Research last week from the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency found the gender pay gap may take 26 years to fully close with some industries on track to never reach parity.
Professor Breunig said as their research unfolded, the findings became as striking as they were unexpected.
He said he and Dr Zhang were able to discount higher reporting rates as a reason for the increase in cases of violence once a woman’s income surpassed that of their male partner.
He and Dr Zhang said the research suggested governments would need to carefully consider the type of programs they designed to deal with partner abuse against women.
“Simply increasing women’s economic power may not be effective in reducing violence against women and government may need to try and influence cultural change,” they said.
“Many economists are uncomfortable with the idea of government trying to alter preferences. However, thinking about how to design child care policy, parental leave policy and family payments policy to allow gender norms to evolve alongside greater gender equality in work and income seems like a clear policy direction.”
Chair of Wesnet and chief executive of the Annie North Women’s Refuge in Victoria, Julie Oberin, said the research was groundbreaking as it highlighted the depth of misogyny across Australia.
“Australia is particularly misogynist and has very clear toxic masculinity and that’s an issue this research highlights,” she said.
“The role of the male breadwinner is so central to masculinity in this country that when it is challenged you end up in this situation.”
Ms Oberin said the Australian research was in line with work out of Sweden where, despite major advances in gender economic equality, there were still deep divisions between men and women around violence.
“Domestic violence is like racism. You can make it legal for black people to travel on the same bus as white people, you can make it legal for black children to go to school with white children, but that doesn’t get rid of racism,” she said.