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By Suzanne Duryea.

Lee en español.

It is well-known that witnessing parental violence in the family of origin as children is highly predictive of experiencing intimate partner violence as adults. One would expect that younger generations of women who have higher levels of education and more access to information would be more likely to break from this cycle. But do they? The latest Social Pulse in Latin America and the Caribbean 2017 addresses this question.

Using a module on domestic violence carefully collected by the Demographic and Health Surveys, we estimate the probability of repeating physical domestic violence across generations (intergenerational persistence of physical intimate partner violence, P-IPV) in six countries with available data: Colombia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras and Peru.  Our analysis focuses on women because the domestic violence module is fielded only to women. Put simply we analyze the likelihood that a girl who witnessed her father beat her mother, is physically assaulted by her partner when she becomes an adult.

What Did We Find?

The chance that an adult woman experiences physical violence by her partner is on average 12 percentage points higher if she witnessed her mother experience physical domestic violence. Moreover, in all six countries, women are as likely to repeat patterns of family violence today as women born decades earlier. Whether born in 1990 or 1970, the experience of witnessing P-IPV in one’s family of origin as a child predicts the same increased risk of experiencing it later on in life. In other words, the effect of domestic violence during childhood across generations has remained practically unchanged.

Women in Latin America and the Caribbean are as likely to repeat patterns of family violence today as women born decades earlier.  


Can Girls’ Education Play a Role in Breaking this Pattern?

Many studies, including this one by Bassi, Busso and Muñoz (2017), highlight the positive changes in women’s education levels, including higher years of schooling attainment for women than for men. But the evidence suggests that, while education matters, it is not a panacea for a family legacy of violence. Although completing secondary education directly reduces a woman’s probability of experiencing P-IPV by 5-10 percentage points, higher education does not generally mediate the probability of repeating patterns within the family. In Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala and Peru the probability of repeating the mother’s experience increases by the same amount regardless of whether the adult daughter has completed secondary schooling or not.

For Colombia and Peru, we are also able to extend our analysis to the intergenerational persistence of harsh corporal punishment by women. Respondents who indicated that they exercise (or that their parents had exercised) hitting children with an object as a disciplining method were classified as applying harsh physical punishment. The probability of deploying this harsh disciplinary method increases by 20 percentage points in Peru and 25 in Colombia when parents used this method during one’s own childhood.  As in the case of intimate partner violence, we found no reduction in the probability of replicating harsh physical punishment in younger generations of women compared to older generations.

Better Protection of Girls (and Boys) from Domestic Violence is Urgent

The inertia documented in the patterns of intergenerational domestic violence suggests that broad social improvements are not likely to be sufficient to change these patterns, and thus represents a call for urgent action. Traditionally much of the discussion regarding ways to eliminate violence against women, which we commemorate every year in November, tends to revolve around adults, but it is clear that combating violence against women must begin during the early years. The effects of exposure to violence during childhood on subsequent outcomes such as antisocial behavior or health effects have been widely documented. It is time to focus on effective policies that target vulnerable families, such as home visiting programs and parenting programs, that can help break the cycle.

Do you know about successful stories in your country that can lead by example in the region? Tell us in the comments section below or follow the conversation around the #SocialPulse on Twitter @BIDgente.

Family Legacy: Breaking the Mold or Repeating Patterns?

The document analyses the repetition of behaviors and outcomes between parents and children, and describes the trends in a comprehensive set of key social indicators throughout the life cycle in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Suzanne Duryea is a Principal Research Economist in the Social Sector of the IDB.

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