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New Research: Social Stress Linked to Increased Dating Violence

By Lori Wright, Media Relations
May 6, 2009

Murray Strauss, co-director of the UNH Family Research Lab, and Professor of Sociology
Murray Strauss, co-director of the UNH Family Research Lab, and Professor of Sociology

New research from UNH finds that increased social stress in childhood and young adulthood has a direct link to increased dating violence. Conducted by Murray Straus, co-director of the UNH Family Research Laboratory and professor of sociology, the research is based on a 32-nation study and shows that Taiwan has the highest level of social stress.

The preeminent researcher in his field, Straus presented the new research at the conference on “War, Terrorism, and Social Stress: Impacts on Crime and the Criminal Justice System” at the Institute of Criminology, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Monday, May 4, 2009.

“The current economic stress in the United States and around the world is likely to result in more violence, including more physical abuse of children and more violence between partners,” Straus says.

Straus studied 14,252 university students from 68 universities in 32 nations in a comprehensive and groundbreaking International Dating Violence Study. He found that the more stress experienced by these students, the greater the probability they had hit a dating, cohabiting, or marital partner.

Specifically, Straus found:

  • The relation of stress to violence is found around the world, in both developed and developing nations.

  • The relation of stress to hitting a dating partner applies to women hitting a male partner as well as men hitting women.

  • The relation of stress to violence does not depend on the stress being a major traumatic experience such as death of a close family member. Even two or three everyday mild but ongoing stresses, such as being pressured by friends to do things and living in housing that is noisy or run down, are related to an increased probability of violence.

  • The effects of stress experienced in childhood carry over to adulthood. Students who experienced the stress of being spanked or hit a lot parents before age 12 were more likely to hit a dating partner than other students.

  • Childhood stress and current ongoing stresses each makes a separate contribution to explaining violence. The highest rates of violence against a dating partner were found for students who were both spanked and hit a lot as a young child and were also currently experiencing stress.

  • These results apply to both minor assaults such as slapping or throwing things at a dating partner and to severe assault such as punching or choking a partner.

  • The relationship of stress to violence applies to nation-to-nation differences as well as differences between individual persons. Straus found that nations that are high in the average level of ongoing stressful conditions, and nations where a high percent of students who were spanked or hit a lot before age 12, tend to be nations with a high percent of students who hit a dating partner.

Straus found that Taiwan has the highest levels of social stress, followed by South Korea and China. The United States ranked 12th out of the 32 nations studied for social stress. The Netherlands was found to have the lowest levels of social stress. When looking at rates of assault, Iran had the highest overall assault rate and Taiwan had the highest rate of severe assaults.

Countries with the Highest and Lowest Stressful Conditions

1. Taiwan
2. South Korea
3. China
4. Russia
5. Tanzania
6. South Africa
7. Hong Kong
8. Japan
9. Lithuania
10. India
11. Mexico
12. United States
13. Greece
14. Germany
15. Great Britain
16. Romania
17. Iran
18. Australia
19. Singapore
20. Brazil
21. New Zealand
22. Hungary
23. Portugal
24. Guatemala
25. Canada
26. Malta
27. Venezuela
28. Sweden
29. Israel
30. Switzerland
31. Belgium
32. The Netherlands

Overall Assault Rates

1. Iran
2. Mexico
3. Great Britain
4. Hong Kong
5. China
6. Taiwan
7. Tanzania
8. India
9. Russia
10. Belgium
11. South Africa
12. Romania
13. South Korea
14. Lithuania
15. The Netherlands
16. Greece
17. United States
18. New Zealand
19. Germany
20. Canada
21. Venezuela
22. Guatemala
23. Switzerland
24. Hungary
25. Singapore
26. Brazil
27. Japan
28. Australia
29. Israel
30. Malta
31. Sweden
32. Portugal

Overall Severe Assault Rates

1. Taiwan
2. Tanzania
3. China
4. India
5. Hong Kong
6. Iran
7. Greece
8. South Korea
9. South Africa
10. Mexico
11. Great Britain
12. Venezuela
13. Russia
14. United States
15. New Zealand
16. Romania
17. Hungary
18. Belgium
19. Australia
20. Canada
21. Japan
22. Lithuania
23. Germany
24. Israel
25. Guatemala
26. Brazil
27. Switzerland
28. Portugal
29. The Netherlands
30. Singapore
31. Malta
32. Sweden

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