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Correlation Between Race and Domestic Violence is Confounded with Community Context

NCJ Number
Social Problems Volume: 51 Issue: 3 Dated: August 2004 Pages: 326-342
Date Published
August 2004
17 pages

This study examined whether ecological factors similarly influence the individual-level likelihoods of domestic violence by White males and African-American males.


Race is often cited as a central correlate of domestic violence, but the correlation between these two variables is rarely discussed or studied. Studies of the correlation between race and violent crime have concluded that the link between race and violent crime can be explained by other structural correlates of race, such as ecological factors; this argument is known as the “racial invariance thesis.” The current study applies this macro-level argument to the examination of the link between race and domestic violence. Specifically, the authors examined whether the apparent correlation between domestic violence and race is confounded by the ecological contexts in which African-American and White males live. In addition to drawing on the racial invariance thesis, the analysis is also driven by social disorganization theory; the authors highlight two important facts: (1) African-Americans and Whites reside in different ecological contexts, and (2) rates of crimes for Whites and African-Americans vary by ecological characteristics. Data were drawn from wave 2 of the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH), completed in 1994, and from the 1990 United States Census. Measures included male-to-female domestic violence, community context, and individual-level risk factors. Results of statistical analyses indicated support for the racial invariance thesis applied at the individual level. Specifically, findings revealed that rates of domestic violence vary by type of community for both races. Males of either race living in neighborhoods marked by social disorganization are more likely to engage in domestic violence than their counterparts living in more advantaged neighborhoods. The correlation between race and domestic violence is substantially reduced when Whites are compared to African-Americans in similar ecological contexts. Neighborhood context remains highly significant at the individual-level even after large numbers of individual-level variables are included in the analysis. In the end, it is the reality that more African-Americans live in disadvantaged neighborhoods in comparison to Whites; as such, race and domestic violence will continue to show a correlation in the research literature. Tables, references

Date Published: August 1, 2004