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Welfare Reform, Domestic Violence, and Employment: What Do We Know and What Do We Need To Know?

NCJ Number
Violence Against Women Volume: 10 Issue: 9 Dated: September 2004 Pages: 961-990
Date Published
September 2004
30 pages

This literature review examines the impact of welfare reform on women's well-being as well as domestic violence against women by abusers who may be angered by the apparent independence of women required to be employed outside the home under welfare reform mandates.


A key goal of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act was to increase employment of those receiving welfare. Women's work participation has increased significantly under this legislation. In 2001, Tolman and Raphael summarized what various studies have learned about the relationship between domestic violence and employment. They found inconsistent results and concluded that a long-term perspective is required to assess this relationship. Tolman and Raphael emphasized that future research must examine not only whether abused women are successful at working but also whether working increases the likelihood of their victimization. Since Tolman and Raphael's review, studies continue to yield inconsistent findings. Some studies have found that women with higher employment stability were less likely to have experienced recent domestic abuse; however, in a Pennsylvania study (Brush, 2003), 40 percent of women in a welfare-to-work program reported that domestic abuse started or became worse when they were working. Studies of poor women often assess violence with general measures that may not include the specific kinds of acts that interfere with employment or education. Some differentiate amounts of violence, making a distinction between serious and less serious violence; however, this may ignore a qualitative difference in types of violence. Perhaps most important, variables that are not included in these studies may account for different responses to welfare reform and to abuse. Some of the most important of these unobserved variables are contextual factors that may affect whether women work outside the home, such as childcare accessibility and transportation problems. Structural factors, such as a lack of local jobs, may also be critical to employment. Other factors are differences in ethnicity and the abusive partner's employment or education. Ensuring that generous work supports are included in welfare legislation may be an effective means of reducing both poverty and associated domestic violence. 2 tables and 71 references

Date Published: September 1, 2004