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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Increased Education + Domestic Violence = ?

As part of the Fall Economics Seminar Series at the ISC, Dr. Bilge Erten delivered the presentation “For Better or for Worse? Education and the Prevalence of Domestic Violence in Turkey” on Sept. 20. Dr. Erten’s study (in collaboration with Dr. Pinar Keskin of Wellesley College) analyzed whether empowering women through some mechanism could have an effect on domestic violence. Dr. Erten, currently an NBER DITE fellow at Northeastern, received a PhD in Economics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2010, and was a postdoctoral research scholar at Columbia University from 2012 to 2014.

For their analysis the researchers chose to focus on the 1997 eight-year Basic Education Program reform in Turkey, which mandated eight years of schooling, a change from the five years typically received by women before the reform. In focusing on this law, Dr. Erten sought to analyze this question: If women are empowered by extra years of education, does the risk of domestic violence change?

According to Dr. Erten, “Improving access of women to education can empower them economically, but economic empowerment does not always lead to empowerment within the household. In particular, when in the presence of social stigma against divorce, economic empowerment of women may create backlash effects from men, which might make the domestic violence experienced by women worse.”

Since many in the audience struggled with the idea that increased education may not improve a woman’s situation in regards to domestic violence, Dr. Erten offered some context. While increased education may help a woman secure a better job with better benefits, as the data showed, this may not empower her because her partner may simply appropriate this higher income or force her to use it for the household. As stated by Dr. Erten, “economic empowerment in this context did not lead to household empowerment.”

Additionally, since the education reform chiefly targeted women (as most men in the country were already completing eight years of education), the effects of increased schooling had little impact on the male side of the domestic violence equation.

The audience challenged Dr. Erten on her sample size and the consequent application of her data. In response, she explained the difficulties in obtaining the data, especially in rural areas of Turkey, where surveys were conducted in-house by teams of sociologists. In the predominantly Muslim country (nearly 99 percent), the male members of the team took the husband away while the female members questioned the subject in an isolated room. In communicating these difficult and imperfect conditions for data-gathering as well as other statistical anomalies, Dr. Erten was repeatedly interrupted mid-answer.

In claiming that education isn’t a “magic bullet” to cure domestic violence, the study cited how in Turkey the social stigma of divorce is heavy, which keeps women in marriages. Additionally, the probability is that about one in three women will face domestic violence in their lifetime. This abuse not only affects women, but the children born in those households. The cost of dealing with this issue, according to Dr. Erten, is around $4.4 trillion annually.
In spite of the data showing that increased education levels for women could worsen domestic violence in the short run, Dr. Erten pointed out: “This is not to say that such backlash effects are not overcome over time. There is evidence that social norms evolve to accommodate changing roles of women in society. However, in the short to medium run, there can be backlash effects, which are important to take into account while designing policy.”