Economist wins grant to study domestic violence in Latin America

November 01, 2012

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- Domestic violence in Latin America devastates families and may weaken the region's workforce over time, according to an economist at the University of California, Riverside who has received a $35,000 grant from the Inter-American Development Bank to study the issue.

Violence against women is costly, but the impact on their health and participation in the workforce, and on the ability of their children to lead productive lives, has not been quantified previously, said Jorge Agüero, assistant professor of economics at UC Riverside and principal investigator of the research project, "Causal Estimates of the Intangible Costs of Violence Against Women in Latin America and the Caribbean." The co-principal investigator is Martin Benavides, executive director and a senior researcher at the Group for the Analysis of Development (GRADE) and a professor in the Department of Social Sciences at the Pontifical Catholic University in Lima.

The research project is believed to be the most comprehensive study of the intangible costs of domestic violence in Latin America. The Inter-American Development Bank, which is based in Washington, D.C., is the largest source of financing for development and poverty-reduction projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. Jorge Agüero

"We already know that being malnourished as a child and lower education attainment affect productivity as an adult," Agüero said. "What has not been established is the effect of domestic violence on the next generation. What is the impact on women's labor participation and health, and on the health and welfare of their children? If children suffer from malnutrition and are less likely to go to school, then workers of the future will be weaker. Our main goal is to develop hard and scientific evidence of the effects of domestic violence so we can quantify this. It's not just an equity issue. Does the economy suffer because of domestic violence?"

The researchers also will attempt to estimate the amount of wages lost due to a reduction in the health of children exposed to domestic violence, which has implications for developing economies.

According to the World Health Organization, interpersonal violence presents a major challenge to global public health. Some researchers estimate the resulting loss of productivity can be as much as 2 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in some Latin American countries.

Earlier research has determined that household violence against women is the most pervasive kind of violence in Latin America. More than two-thirds of rural women in Peru say they have experienced physical or sexual abuse at least once in their lives; the rate is about 50 percent for urban women.

Agüero and Benavides are analyzing 14 years of domestic violence data from the Demographic and Health Surveys of Bolivia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru, representing more than 30 million women between the ages of 15 and 49. They will evaluate the costs of domestic violence, such as women's reproductive health, employment and lost wages; the ability of women to care for their children; and the impact on child welfare, such as health, nutrition, vaccinations, school enrollment and education attainment.

"Children growing up in households where there is violence among intimate partners tend to suffer from behavioral and emotional problems," Aguero said. "There is also evidence suggesting that this type of violence has effects on child mortality and morbidity, including malnutrition and diarrheal diseases. In Latin America domestic violence correlates with poor health of women and poor nutrition of children."

Agüero and Benavides will use as a case study Peru's Centros Emergencia Mujer (Women's Emergency Centers), which began in 1999 with 13 locations where women could report abuse and receive assistance. Today there are more than 140 centers in all 24 regions of the country. The researchers will match the presence of specific centers, based on the year they opened, with national demographic and health data to determine the impacts of domestic violence.

"The results of this study will provide academics and policy-makers with the most comprehensive analysis of the intangible costs of domestic violence in the region," Agüero said. "This has the potential to change public policy."

University of California - Riverside

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