In the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where domestic violence is prevalent and women's status is low, indicators of relatively high socioeconomic status at the individual level are associated with reduced levels of physical, but not sexual, violence toward wives. The community's level of socioeconomic development is not associated with domestic violence, but the likelihood of physical violence toward wives is elevated in areas where norms support wife-beating, and the likelihood of both physical and sexual violence increases as the district murder rate rises. These are among the main findings of an analysis of data from the Male Reproductive Health Survey, which was conducted in 1995 as part of a study of how to improve family planning services in Uttar Pradesh.1

Survey respondents were married men aged 15–59 who lived with their wives. A total of 4,520 men residing in four districts participated in interviews covering their socioeconomic and demographic characteristics; reproductive health and behavior; attitudes toward gender roles; and experiences with, and attitudes toward, intimate partner violence. The analysts aggregated selected measures to construct community-level variables. Additionally, they used data from appropriate local sources to calculate an index of community economic development and district murder rates. They conducted logistic regression analysis to identify associations between individual-level and contextual variables and two outcomes: men's perpetration of physical violence and sexual violence against their wives in the year before the survey.

The sample consisted predominantly of rural men (73%) who had been married for more than 10 years (74%) and had children (91%). Seven in 10 respondents and three in 10 of their wives had at least some education. Forty-six percent of the men reported owning at least three of the six household items that made up the survey's household assets index, and 16% owned none; one-third had had to borrow money in the past year to pay for medical expenses. Five percent had ever had an extramarital relationship, and 33% said that as children, they had seen their fathers beat their mothers. In the 12 months before the survey, 25% of participants had hit, slapped, kicked or tried to hurt their wives; 30% had physically forced them to have intercourse.

Respondents lived in communities where the level of economic development was generally low (mean, 2.2 on a scale of 0–7) and women had little schooling (2.7 years, on average); 43% of households in the sample had electricity. In these communities, men largely agreed that wives should always show respect to and follow the instructions of their husbands, and largely disagreed that no harm is done if wives disagree with their husbands. Support for beating or physically abusing wives who disobey their husbands was mixed. Each year, an average of 6.2 murders occurred per 100,000 population in the districts represented in the sample (range, 3.3–8.2).

Results of the first multivariate analysis suggest that socioeconomic status and physical violence toward wives are inversely related. In models controlling only for individual-level variables, men with at least seven years of education were significantly less likely than those with none to have engaged in violence against their wives in the last year; the likelihood was similarly reduced if the wife had had seven or more years of schooling. The likelihood of violence also was reduced for men whose households had the greatest number of assets and was elevated among those for whom economic pressure necessitated borrowing money to cover medical expenses. Other individual-level factors that were associated with increased odds of physical violence were being married for five or more years, being childless, having had an extramarital relationship and having witnessed domestic violence as a child.

When contextual variables were added to the controls, results for the individual-level variables were essentially unchanged. In addition, the greater the support for wife-beating and the higher the murder rate, the greater the likelihood that respondents had physically abused their wives in the previous year.

The second regression analysis, examining correlates of sexual coercion of wives, yielded a different pattern of results. The most highly educated men had an increased likelihood of having sexually coerced their wives in the previous year, and there was no association with wives' level of education. Household asset index scores were not significant, but economic pressure was predictive of sexual coercion. Childlessness, a history of extramarital relationships and exposure to domestic violence as a child were positively associated with sexual coercion. The only significant result with regard to marital duration was that men who had been married for 15 or more years were less likely to have forced their wives to have sex than were those married fewer than five years.

Again, the addition of controls for contextual variables did not substantially change the individual-level results. None of the community variables were significant in the analysis of sexual coercion, but the district murder rate had a positive association.

The researchers acknowledge that husbands, "as the principal aggressors, might be expected to underreport violent behavior." However, given that wife-beating is generally accepted in Uttar Pradesh, and that the prevalence of physical violence reported in the survey is consistent with other evidence from the state, they contend that underreporting is not likely to have significantly affected their results.

Improvements in individuals' education or socioeconomic status, the investigators conclude, may help to lower the risk of physical violence toward women; however, "the same cannot be assumed with respect to sexual violence within marriage." At the same time, improvements in community socioeconomic development levels alone will not be sufficient to reduce the risk of domestic violence. Rather, according to the researchers, it may be necessary to address the "normative underpinnings condoning wife beating or… levels of violent crime."

—D. Hollander


1. Koenig MA et al., Individual and contextual determinants of domestic violence in north India, American Journal of Public Health, 2006, 96(1):132–138.