Global attitudes about domestic violence changed
dramatically during the first decade of the 2000s, according to a new
University of Michigan study that analyses data from 26 low- and middle-income
Nigeria had the largest change, with 65% of men and 52% of
women rejecting domestic violence in 2008, compared with 48% and 33%,
respectively, in 2003.
How the research was
In the study, which appears in the American Sociological Review, University of Michigan researcher
Rachael Pierotti analyses data on hundreds of thousands of people collected in
Demographic and Health Surveys funded by the United States Agency for
International Development (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," says 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 in the following situations?
- If she goes out without telling him
- If she neglects the children
- If she argues with him
- If she refuses to have sex with him
- 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.
Two countries buck
In two countries — Madagascar and Indonesia — attitudes
among both men and women changed in the wrong direction. During the period
studied, the percentage of men and women rejecting domestic violence decreased
in those countries.
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 says. "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 lived 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,"
says Pierotti. "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 University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR)
Population Studies Center and this work was supported by a National Science
Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship.