Interpersonal Consequences

Part 3. Alcohol Use and Wife Beating

Drinking type and violence rate
Source: Glenda Kaufman Kantor and Murray A. Straus, Social Problems 34 (1987):219

Following the publication of Behind Closed Doors, Straus and his colleages continued to examine various factors that contribute to the high rates of violence they discovered in their initial national survey of American households. Kantor and Straus (1987) focused on the role of alcohol in domestic violence of men toward women in an article titled, "The 'Drunken Bum' Theory of Wife Beating." The data for their study came from telephone interviews with husbands or wives in a national probability sample of over 5,000 U.S. They constructed a six-step drinking index based on two questions dealing with the typical frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption by the husband: (1) Abstainer; (2) Low (drinks on infrequent occasions and never more than 1-2 drinks); (3) Low Moderate (drinks from once a month to daily; never more than 2 drinks; (4) High Moderate (drinks up to 1-2 times a week; 3-4 drinks per day); (5) High (drinks 3-4 times a week to daily; 3 or more drinks a day; (6) Binge (drinks up to once or twice a week; 5 or more drinks per day). This study also used the Conflict Tactics Scale to measure husband-to-wife violence and focused on acts such as throwing objects, slapping, kicking, beating up, etc. that fall in the range of abusive violence.

As shown by the graph on the right, Kantor and Straus found a strong, positive relationship between the husband's level of alcohol consumption on the drinking index and the rate of abusive violence toward wives (one or more abusive acts in the previous year). Whereas less than 7 percent of abstaining husbands engaged in an act of violence, this rate more than doubles in households where the husband is a High quantity/frequency drinker (16.5 percent) or a Binge drinker (19.2 percent). However, further analyses revealed that the relationship between husband's drinking and violence toward his female partner is more complicated than it first appears. For one thing. Kaplan and Straus found that no alcohol was involved in the vast majority of violent domestic conflicts reported by their respondents. Based on a question about specific episodes of conflict, 76 percent of respondents indicated that neither partner was drinking prior to the violent act. More specifically, the husband only was drinking in 14 percent of violent incidents, the wife only was drinking in 2 percent, and a mere 8 percent of the violent incidents occurred when both partners were drinking. This raises serious questions about the immediate, direct effects of alcohol as a "disinhibitor" of violence in conflictual situations.

Kantor and Straus went on to consider other factors that might act in combination with alcohol or even account for the apparent relationship between husband's typical drinking pattern and the rate of violence toward wives. As Straus et al. found in Behind Closed Doors, economic stress and marginal employment were significantly related to domestic violence. Therefore, Kantor and Straus included a measure of husband's occupational status—blue collar vs. white collar—in their analysis to determine whether this altered the original relationship between husband's drinking and wife beating. They also included a measure of cultural norms tolerating violence by asking husbands the following question: "Are there situations that you can imagine in which you would approve of a husband slapping his wife?" Men who said "yes" to this question were classified as approving of violence toward wives. The argument behind this measure of violent norms is that alcohol is less a "cause" of violence toward women than it is a culturally legitimate "excuse" for violent acts among men who share norms that tolerate or encourage violence in interpersonal relationships with women. The following graph shows how the addition of occupational status and violent norms fundamentally alter the original relationship between husbands' drinking and violence toward their wives.

Factors Influencing Violence Rate
Source: Glenda Kaufman Kantor and Murray A. Straus, Social Problems 34 (1987):222

Blue-collar status and normative approval of violence dramatically increase the rate of violence, even among men who are moderate drinkers. At the extreme end of the drinking index, well over a third of the blue-collar men classified as Binge drinkers and who approve of violence were involved in a violent incident toward their wife. It is also important to note that blue-collar and white-collar men who approve of violence and who do not drink at all—the Abstainers—are generally more likely to abuse their wives than are their counterparts who disapprove of violence, no matter how much the latter drink. In other words, more than alcohol alone is involved in those couples where the husband is likely to engage in abusive violence toward his partner. These findings lead Kantor and Straus (1987: 225) to conclude that efforts to reduce wife abuse in the U.S. need to go beyond alcohol treatment to focus on more fundamental causes, "especially the high rate of poverty and economic inequality, and the cultural tradition which glorifies violence, assumes male dominance, and tolerates violence by women against women."

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