The risk of intimate partner violence varies by ethnicity

September 14, 2003

Survey research from the past 25 years indicates that approximately one in five couples has experienced an episode of intimate partner violence (IPV) in the preceding year. A longitudinal study in the September issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research has found that black and Hispanic couples are two to three times more likely to report male-to-female and female-to-male partner violence than white couples, even after statistically controlling for socio-demographic and psychosocial variables, including alcohol consumption.

Researchers collected initial data for this study in 1995, surveying 1,635 married or cohabitating couples 18 years of age or older and living in households in the United States. In 2000, a follow-up survey reached 1,025 of these same couples, including 406 white, 232 black, and 387 Hispanic couples. Specific risk factors examined included male and female reports of a history of childhood abuse, exposure to parental violence, impulsivity, alcohol problems, frequency of drinking five or more drinks per occasion, volume of alcohol consumed per week in average standard drinks, approval of marital aggression, and male-to-female and female-to-male partner violence at baseline.

"We found higher rates of partner violence in ethnic minority groups," said Craig A. Field, a professor at The University of Texas Houston School of Public Health, Dallas Regional Campus, and corresponding author for the study. "Black and Hispanic couples reported at least twice the prevalence rate of both male-to-female and female-to-male partner violence."

White couples reported rates of male-to-female and female-to-male partner violence at eight and 10 percent, respectively. In contrast, black couples reported rates of 20% and 22%, respectively; Hispanic couples reported rates of 21% and 20%, respectively.

"The risk factors for male-to-female and female-to-male partner violence, however, appear to vary across ethnic groups," said Field. "For example, drinking patterns may be a significant risk factor for the development of partner violence across time among white couples, while impulsivity may be a significant risk factor for its development among ethnic minorities. These results suggest that ... there is a complex interaction between ethnicity and individual attributes of the couples."

"While not all cases of IPV are associated with alcohol," added Carol B. Cunradi, epidemiologist and research scientist at the Berkeley, California-based Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, "research over the past few decades indicates that alcohol consumption - especially heavy drinking and alcohol problems - features prominently as a key risk factor in the initiation, prevalence, and persistence of IPV over time. This study addresses an important gap in the current literature by modeling predictors of IPV within ethnic groups ... and finding that alcohol appears to play a differential role in the occurrence of IPV over time in couples across ethnic groups, and that the alcohol use patterns of both the male and female need to be considered."

"The developmental course of partner violence may vary across ethnic groups," said Field. "For example, black couples reporting male-to-female partner violence were more likely to report both forms of partner violence five years later, while Hispanic couples reporting female-to-male partner violence were more likely to report both forms of partner violence five years later." Field said this information could be used to help identify couples most at risk for couples at risk for escalation of partner violence across time.

Furthermore, he said, the findings of male impulsivity as a significant risk factor among minorities and male alcohol consumption as a significant risk factor among white couples have important implications for prevention and intervention. "It may be that brief alcohol interventions are more effective among white couples, and interventions focusing on anger management may be more useful for minority couples. However, the application of this knowledge from the general population to clinical settings requires further evaluation."

"Simply put," said Cunradi, "the contribution of alcohol, socio-demographic and psychosocial factors to IPV risk may vary across ethnic groups. Therefore, researchers and clinicians involved with IPV prevention and intervention need to be aware of these ethnic differences, and consider those factors most relevant to the populations they work with when designing studies or prevention programs."
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (ACER) is the official journal of the Research Society on Alcoholism and the International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism. The co-author of and principle investigator for the ACER paper was Raul Caetano of The University of Texas Houston School of Public Health, Dallas Regional Campus. The study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (through a merit award to Dr. Caetano).

Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

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