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Dramatic changes in global attitudes toward domestic violence

Abused woman hiding in dark, concept for domestic violence (stock image)ANN ARBOR—Global attitudes about domestic violence have changed dramatically since 2000, according to a new University of Michigan study that analyzes data from 26 low- and middle-income countries.

Nigeria had the largest change, with 65 percent of men and 52 percent of women rejecting domestic violence in 2008, compared with 48 percent and 33 percent, respectively, in 2003.

In the study published in the current issue of the American Sociological Review, U-M researcher Rachael Pierotti examined data on hundreds of thousands of people collected in Demographic and Health Surveys funded by USAID. Half of the countries surveyed are in sub-Saharan Africa.

"In many countries, men were even more likely to reject violence than women were," said Pierotti, a graduate student in sociology.

Data on male attitudes was available in 15 of the countries Pierotti studied. Men were more likely than women to reject domestic violence in Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

The survey questions about attitudes toward domestic violence differed slightly from one country to another. But the most common form was as follows:

Sometimes a husband is annoyed or angered by things which his wife does. In your opinion, is a husband justified in hitting or beating his wife:

  1. If she goes out without telling him.
  2. If she neglects the children.
  3. If she argues with him.
  4. If she refuses to have sex with him.
  5. If she burns the food.

In general, Pierotti found that people were most likely to say that violence was justified if a wife neglected the children and least likely to consider it justifiable if a wife burned the food.

In a few countries, attitudes among both men and women changed in the wrong direction. In Madagascar and Indonesia, for example, the percentage rejecting domestic violence decreased during the period studied.

Pierotti found that attitudes about the use of domestic violence changed significantly among all age groups.

"Often it's the case that social change starts with younger people," she said. "But in this case, people of all ages became more rejecting of domestic violence."

She found that those who lived in urban areas and who had more education were more likely to reject wife-beating than those who live in rural areas and who had relatively less education. She also found that in many of the countries, those with access to newspapers, radio and television were more likely to reject wife-beating.

"The global spread of ideas about women's rights and the increasing international attention to the problem of violence against women may be contributing to the striking change in attitudes about this issue," Pierotti said. "But more research will be needed in order to confirm if this is really the reason."

Pierotti is the winner of a Marshall Weinberg Research Fellowship at the U-M Institute for Social Research Population Studies Center and this work was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

 

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Established in 1949, the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research is the world's largest academic social science survey and research organization, and a world leader in developing and applying social science methodology, and in educating researchers and students from around the world. ISR conducts some of the most widely cited studies in the nation, including the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers, the American National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, the Columbia County Longitudinal Study and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China and South Africa. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, the world's largest digital social science data archive. For more information, visit the ISR website at www.isr.umich.edu.