Dissertation Project

The Politics of Domestic Violence
Gender equality and economic development go hand in hand. A wealth of cross-national evidence shows that economic development has a powerful, transformative and profoundly positive effect on the social, economic and political circumstances of women. And nowhere is this relationship more apparent than in Europe where the advanced industrialized states of the European Union consistently and systematically score highly across all indicators commonly associated with gender equality. However, despite these advances in gender equality, Europe has a hitherto unheeded problem – its astronomical rates of violence against women, particularly by intimate partners. In defiance of assumptions about the positive correlation between development and gender equality in general, recent survey research shows that within Europe, the wealthiest countries are also the countries where violence against women (VAW) is most prevalent.

My dissertation aims to provide a political explanation for this disturbing and puzzling relationship. My central argument is that variation in levels of VAW can best be explained by variation in a state’s implementation and promotion of the “universal breadwinning model”, which includes such policies as paid parental leave, publicly-funded daycare services, home-carer allowances and individual taxation. While these policies help increase female economic independence, they also precipitate the unraveling of traditional gender roles, which then provokes a violent male backlash against their partners. To test my theory, I pursue a mixed methodology that incorporates quantitative cross-national and sub-national statistical analysis, a most similar systems comparative design between Germany and Austria and ethnographic observation and interviews with survivors of VAW in the UK and Ireland. Through these methods, I seek to elucidate the critical role that the welfare state plays in directly shaping violence against women.