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American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 2013, 5(1): 179205
http://dx.doi.org/10.1257/pol.5.1.179

Public Transfers and Domestic Violence:


The Roles of Private Information and Spousal Control
By Gustavo J. Bobonis, Melissa Gonzlez-Brenes, and Roberto Castro*

We study whether transfer programs in which funds are targeted to


women decrease the incidence of spousal abuse. We examine the
impact of the Mexican Oportunidades program on spousal abuse
rates and threats of violence using data from a specialized survey.
Beneficiary women are 40 percent less likely to be victims of physical
abuse, but are more likely to receive violent threats with no associated
abuse. This evidence is consistent with a model of decision-makers
interactions with asymmetric information in the male partners gains
to marriage, who can then use threats of violence to extract rents
from their female partners. (JEL D82, J12, J16, K42, O15, O17)

A cts of spousal violence are commonly considered coercive instruments at


the disposition of individuals for the control of household resources or part-
ners behaviors (Tauchen, Witte, and Long 1991; Bloch and Rao 2002; Felson and
Messner 2000). Given the concerns that violence and coercion represent limitations
on the freedom of an individual (Sen 1999), it is of particular concern that partner
violence is quite prevalent, rising to approximately a quarter of the population in
countries such as Haiti and Zambia (Kishor and Johnson 2004).1 This high preva-
lence across a large cross-section of countries has contributed to the recognition of
spousal abuse as an important and global public policy concern.
This paper informs the question of whether policy mechanismsin particular
social insurance policies aimed at improving womens opportunities and economic

*Bobonis: Associate Professor, Department of Economics, University of Toronto, 150St. George Street,
Toronto, Ontario, M5S 3G7, Canada and BREAD and CIFAR (e-mail: gustavo.bobonis@utoronto.ca); Gonzlez-
Brenes: Cove Strategy, 15 Kenwood St., Somerville, MA 02144 (e-mail: melissa@covestrategy.com); Castro:
Professor, Regional Center for Multidisciplinary Research, National Autonomous University of Mexico, Apartado
postal 4-106, Cuernavaca, Morelos, 62431, Mxico (e-mail: rcastro@unam.mx). A preliminary version of the paper
was circulated as Womens Income, Female Status, and Spousal Violence: Effects of the Mexican Oportunidades
Program (March 2006). We are grateful to Michael Baker, Dwayne Benjamin, Morley Gunderson, Gillian
Hamilton, Robert Pollak, Deborah Reed, Heidi Shierholz, and Aloysius Siow, as well as two anonymous referees,
whose suggestions greatly improved the paper. We would also like to thank seminar participants at Toronto, the
PAA 2006 Conference, the ASSA 2007 Conference, and the CEA 2011 Conference for helpful comments, as
well as Caridad Araujo, Tania Barham, Marta Rubio, Iliana Yaschine, and the staff at Oportunidades for provid-
ing administrative data and their general support throughout. Research support from the Institute of Business and
Economics Research at UC Berkeley and the University of Toronto Connaught Fund is gratefully acknowledged.
We are responsible for any errors that may remain.

To comment on this article in the online discussion forum, or to view additional materials, visit the article page
at http://dx.doi.org/10.1257/pol.5.1.179.
1
Violence against women has been condemned at the highest international world population and women confer-
ences (i.e., Cairo 1994 and Beijing 1995) as an issue of human rights, public health, and womens personal security.
In the context of our study, rural Mexico, 7 percent of women in a marital union report being victims of physical
abuse inflicted by their male partners at some point during the previous 12 months (Castro, Riquer, and Medina
2006; Castro and Casique 2008).

179
180 American Economic Journal: economic policy february 2013

statuscould affect the incidence and severity of spousal abuse. A growing num-
ber of developing countries have introduced conditional cash transfer (CCT) pro-
grams, poverty alleviation programs that provide funds to households in exchange
for certain actions such as childrens school attendance, school performance, and
preventive health care visits. A common feature of these programs is that funds are
targeted to adult women, mothers of the target population of children. The basis for
this gender-specific targeting is a consensus among scholars and policymakers that
targeting resources to women is an effective way to channel resources to children,
and may also promote the empowerment of women within the household and in the
community.2 However, a potential unintended consequence of the program (and of
the gender-based targeting, in particular) may be an increased incidence of domestic
violence, since unexpected changes in womens economic conditions may increase
the incentives for male partners to use violence or threats of violence to (re)gain
control over household resources or decision making (McCloskey 1996; Kimerling
and Baumrind 2004).
The main objective of this paper is to provide evidence of the impacts of the
Mexican Oportunidades CCT program on the incidence of male-to-female spousal
violence. We use data from a new and recently available nationally representative
survey, the National Survey on Relationships within the Household (ENDIREH
2003), which includes detailed information on the prevalence of male-to-female
spousal abuse and threats of violence against women. We define violence from the
survey measures as including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. These distinc-
tions allow us to better characterize the extent and nature of spousal abuse in this
population than previous work in the literature. Our research design is based on the
comparison of beneficiary and nonbeneficiary households within villages, as well as
a careful choice of households based on predetermined characteristics to minimize
potential omitted variable and selection biases.3
We find that women in beneficiary households are 5 to 7 percentage points
(approximately 40 percent) less likely to be victims of physical abuse than non-
beneficiary women, impacts that may result from an improvement in womens power
within the household. However, these women are 3 to 5 percentage points more
likely to be victims of emotional violence, including threats of physical violence,
with no associated physical abuse. These effects are concentrated among women in
households with low expected gains to marriage. The evidence gives a mixed view
of the effectiveness of these programs, as currently structured, to reduce the inci-
dence of domestic violence against women.

2
See a survey of this literature by Duflo (2005) and the seminal papers by Thomas (1990) and Schultz (1990).
There is a burgeoning literature on these programs impacts, and the gender-based targeting of these transfers in
particular, on the levels of female empowerment, the allocation of household resources towards investments in
children, child well-being, and marital transitions (Attanasio and Lechne 2002; Djebbari 2005; Rubalcava, Teruel,
and Thomas 2009; Bobonis 2009, 2011).
3
The estimates we obtain are using a nonexperimental estimator, because we do not use data from the short-
term evaluation of the program. The experimental design was only maintained over a short term (1.5 years in this
case, during the years 19981999), whereas our data is for a different sample of households and for the year 2003
(six years following the initial phase-in of the program). The nonexperimental estimates naturally require stronger
assumptions than the experimental estimates regarding the influence of unobservable characteristics on outcomes.
Vol. 5 No. 1 bobonis et al.: public transfers and domestic violence 181

How should these findings be interpreted? They provide prima facie evidence
against traditional economic theories of the family, which generally predict that
these transfer programs, by improving womens bargaining position in the house-
hold, may decrease the incidence of both physical and emotional spousal abuse.4
One possible alternative explanation is that male partners may use threats of vio-
lence as instruments of coercion to appropriate or (re)gain control over household
resources or decision making (i.e., extract rents) from their female counterparts.
We reinterpret Bloch and Raos (2002) model of domestic violence, in which male
partners have private information regarding the gains to marriage, such as their
own private income or their status within the household based on traditional gender
roles. This private information enables husbands to use threats of abuse to coer-
cively demand transfers from their wives, and strategically use physical violence (as
a punishment) depending on whether their wife complies with the act of coercion.5
The model predicts that, if marginal increases in womens socioeconomic condi-
tions lead to an increase in the amount of rents that husbands are willing to extract,
this will lead to an increase in the threat of spousal abuse with no associated physical
violence, and a reduction in the actual incidence of physical abuse. These predic-
tions are consistent with the data.
That being said, the instrumental use of violence is not the only possible expla-
nation consistent with the data. The CCT program increases the level of household
resources, not just the socioeconomic opportunities available to (or more specifi-
cally, the income of) adult women. If this increase in household resources reduces
stress levels among partners and/or improves the emotional health of adults (or
children) in the family, it could lead to a reduction in the incidence or severity of
spousal abuse. Another possibility is that the program conditions generate conflict
and greater stress within the household. While our results on physical and emotional
violence are consistent with the instrumental violence hypothesis, in isolation they
do not rule out the possibility of these alternative hypotheses. To address this, we
assess whether there is some reduction in other measures of intrahousehold conflict
by examining whether there is a change in the level of violence against children
perpetrated by each parent. We find no significant evidence of increased violence
against children. Together with the results on physical and emotional violence, these
findings are most consistent with the instrumental violence hypothesis.
Our work relates to a small literature studying heterogeneous impacts of condi-
tional cash transfer programs on spousal violence. Angelucci (2008) finds that in the
context of the randomized evaluation of the rural PROGRESA program, alcohol-
related domestic abuse decreased among households receiving small transfers,

4
It is not obvious that the causal relationship between female socioeconomic opportunities and spousal violence
will be negativeas highlighted by the theories of male backlash. Yet evidence from a number of studies in devel-
oped countries suggests that this is the case; see Stevenson and Wolfers (2006) and Aizer (2010). The evidence for
couples in less developed countries is more mixed. For instance, Panda and Agarwal (2005) find that women who
own property are less likely to be victims of spousal violence in India, but Gonzlez-Brenes (2005) does not find
a relationship between female income shares and the probability of violence for women in several East African
countries.
5
This argument is based on sociological theories of male backlash. These predict that as womens economic
opportunities improve, violence against them may increase if men feel their traditional gender role threatened (e.g.,
Macmillan and Gartner 1999).
182 American Economic Journal: economic policy february 2013

whereas large transfers increased the aggressive behavior of husbands, particularly


those with low educational levels. Also, in a recent evaluation of the urban compo-
nent of the Oportunidades program, Rivera, Hernndez, and Castro (2006) find no
evidence that women in beneficiary households face a distinct risk of being victims
of physical spousal abuse relative to nonbeneficiary households. Our study contrib-
utes to this literature by taking advantage of broader measures of spousal abuse and
relating them to the existing theory, allowing us to study these alternative dimen-
sions of the problem.
The findings from this growing literature have important policy implications.
Conditional cash transfer programs are currently one of the main poverty-alleviation
tools in Latin America and the Caribbean (Rawlings and Rubio 2003; Maluccio and
Flores 2004), and are increasingly being implemented in other developing coun-
tries of Asia and Africa. Although womens empowerment is one objective of the
programs, this paper provides a cautionary note on their effectiveness in improving
womens empowerment within the household. If the programs increase the likeli-
hood of emotional violence and threats of physical violence towards women, this
may compromise womens emotional health and other aspects of their and other
household members well-being.
The study also contributes to a growing literature on how, due to the incomplete
nature of marital contracts, imperfect enforceability (e.g., limited commitment)
and information asymmetries among partners within the household may affect the
Pareto-efficiency of intrahousehold resource allocation decisions.6 Ligon (2002),
Basu (2006), and Lundberg and Pollak (2003) explore the implications of limited
commitment in dynamic bargaining models of the family and provide conditions
under which household allocation decisions diverge from full Pareto efficiency.
Rasul (2008) finds evidence consistent with limited commitment in fertility deci-
sions among partners in Malaysia, whereas Jacoby and Mansuri (2006) find evidence
of parental household strategies to limit the extent of expost marital discord among
arranged marriages in Pakistan. Finally, Ashraf (2009) and Bloch and Rao(2002),
respectively, address the role that information asymmetries among partners in their
incomes and levels of satisfaction affect households savings decisions and spousal
violent behaviors. The present study complements the literature by showing how
male partners private information can help them gain undue influence in the behav-
ior and welfare of other household members.
The paper is structured as follows. In Section I we provide a brief description of the
context of study and a concise description of the Mexican Oportunidades program.
We present the data used for the analysis in Section II. We describe our identifica-
tion strategy and discuss how it avoids several identification pitfalls in SectionIII. In
Section IV, we present our main program impact estimates. In Section V, we discuss

6
A large empirical literature assesses the extent of Pareto-efficiency in intrahousehold resource allocation deci-
sions. Evidence from a number of studies in developed countries suggests that the intrahousehold allocation of
resources is Pareto-efficient (Browning 1994; Browning and Chiappori 1998; Chiappori, Fortin, and Lacroix 2002).
However, Udry (1996), Dercon and Krishnan (2000), and Duflo and Udry (2004) find evidence inconsistent with
Pareto-efficiency among rural households in Africa, although evidence from other West African settings (Akresh
2006; Rangel and Thomas 2005) and from rural Mexico (Bobonis 2009) suggests that the results may not be as
generalizable as previously thought.
Vol. 5 No. 1 bobonis et al.: public transfers and domestic violence 183

competing interpretations of our findings and present additional empirical evidence.


Finally, conclusions are given in Section VI.

I.Context

A. Income Distribution Patterns, Gender Roles,


and Spousal Violence among Rural Mexican Households

Gender inequality in familial relations is widespread in rural Mexico. It pervades


multiple realms of everyday life in the Mexican countrysidefrom landholding pat-
terns, to allocation decisions within the household, to various other areas of eco-
nomic and social interaction (e.g., Wolf 1959; Elmendorf 1972; Chias 1992). This
may have implications for whether and how womens incomes influence both the
distribution of resources within the household and individuals perceptions of their
social roles within the household.
Of particular interest to our work is the work of social scientists that have docu-
mented how partners have differential claims on the various forms of income earned
by household members. Among most low-income households, male partners tend to
control their own earned income, while contributing to a household common fund
used to cover basic household expenditures (e.g., Benera and Roldn 1987). This
body of literature argues that this is because men, who in many cases make signifi-
cantly greater cash incomes than their female counterparts, may try to keep informa-
tion about their income levels private, and thus hold back significant amounts for
personal consumption. This strategy may allow male partners to control how much
they contribute to household expenses and to what specific ends. In contrast, most
female partners incomes go entirely into the households common fund. Social
norms, or an ideology of maternal altruism, may oblige them to devote their earn-
ings to meet collective rather than individual consumption needs (Whitehead 1981;
Roldn 1987). Husbands can also raid the common pool for additional personal
spending on items such as alcohol, while vetoing other household expenditures such
as basic household needs (Benera and Roldn 1987).
That being said, Mexico is in the midst of structural economic transitions that have
consequences for social relations, including household gender roles. For instance,
womens employment opportunities have increased dramatically, partly as a result
of Mexicos integration to the international economy as well as the growth of its ter-
tiary and maquiladora sectors (Oliveira and Ariza 1997; Ariza and Oliveira 2001).
Such structural changes have jointly led to a growing number of women entering the
labor force, and a slight increment of mens participation in household production
activities. Together with other cultural changes in Mexican society, these transi-
tions have produced some changes of beliefs over gender roles within the household
(Schmukler 1998; Garca and de Oliveira 2006).7 These changes notwithstanding,
women still experience very low levels of autonomy and a rather limited participa-
tion in household decision-making processes (Casique 2001). Therefore, although

7
However, these changes have been more prevalent within families living in urban areas (Schmukler 1998;
Garca and de Oliveira 2006).
184 American Economic Journal: economic policy february 2013

roles of women are changing, they may be doing so rather slowly. Evidence suggests
that these changes may be even slower among the poorest sectors of the country,
including indigenous households and the rural population (Vzquez Garca 1997).
As for the relationship of these transitions with the incidence of spousal violence,
evidence from the two recent national surveys on domestic violence shows that female
wage earners face a 30 percent higher risk of suffering any form of intimate partner
violence (physical, sexual, or emotional abuse), as compared to women not working
for pay. This association is consistent with sociological theories of male backlash,
showing that the fact that women are employed might constitute a threat to many men,
either because these women have an income of their own, or because having a job
requires diverting time and attention outside the household, or a combination of fac-
tors of this nature (Castro, Riquer, and Medina 2006; Castro and Casique 2008).8 This
is the background against which policies and programs intended to improve womens
opportunities and economic status are being considered.

B. Overview of the Oportunidades Program

In 1997, the Mexican government initiated a conditional cash transfer program


named PROGRESArenamed Oportunidades in 2001 under the Fox administra-
tionaimed at alleviating poverty and improving the human development of chil-
dren in rural Mexico. The program targets the poor in marginal rural communities,
where 40 percent of the children from poor households drop out of school after the
primary level. It provides cash transfers to the mothers of over 2.6million children
conditional on school attendance, health checks, and participation in health clinics.
As mentioned earlier, the basis for this gender-specific targeting is that targeting
resources to women is a more effective way of reaching children in target households,
and may also help empower women within the household and in the community.
The education component of Oportunidades consists of subsidies provided to
mothers, contingent on their childrens regular attendance at school.9 These cash
transfers are available for each child attending school in grades three to nine of
primary and lower secondary school, and range from 70 to 255 pesos per month,
depending on the gender and grade level the child is attending (with a maximum
of 625 pesos per month per family in 1998). The health and nutrition components
consist of cash transfers of approximately 12 pesos per month and nutritional
supplements targeted at children from four months to two years old, pregnant and
breast-feeding women, and children aged between two and five years who exhibit
signs of malnutrition (Gmez de Len and Parker 2000). Benefits are also contin-
gent on participation by mothers in monthly health talks with the local health care
provider, the vaccination of family members, health checks of all children under
five years old, and biannual health checks of all household members. Overall, the

8
Aizer (2010) has highlighted the concern of unobserved heterogeneity and endogeneity biases in studies of
this nature. She exploits variation in labor market conditions for women, in contrast with their actual employment
conditions, to estimate the extent to which these affect the incidence of physical spousal abuse in the household.
9
Receipt of the education-specific benefits is contingent on children attending school at least 85 percent of the
time, which is verified by school personnel.
Vol. 5 No. 1 bobonis et al.: public transfers and domestic violence 185

program transfers are important, representing approximately 10 percent of average


expenditures of beneficiary families (Bobonis 2009).

Program Targeting.The targeting of the program was done at two levelslocal-


ity/village and household-levels. First, eligible localities were identified on the basis
of a locality-level eligibility rule. Program officials used locality-level characteristics
from the Mexico Population and Housing Census 1995 to construct a marginality
index for each locality that reflected its degree of marginalization and was correlated
with the communitys incidence of poverty.10 As for household-level targeting, pro-
gram enumerators conducted household surveys within eligible localities to identify
households that would be classified as poor, based on a proxy-means test.11 The list of
potential beneficiaries was then discussed in a community meeting and suggested revi-
sions sent to the central Oportunidades office. In practice, very few changes were made
to the list of targeted households (Skoufias, Davis, and de la Vega 2001). Therefore,
within each eligible community, only households below a threshold became eligible
for the program. This targeting and program eligibility information is important in the
construction of our sample of eligible women (see Section IIIA).
Initially, a locality was eligible for Oportunidades if it was classified as poor
(marginality grade 4) or very poor (marginality grade 5) out of a 1 to 5 scale based
on the locality-level marginality index, as well as if the locality had access to a primary
school, a secondary school, a health center, and was classified rural (defined as inhab-
ited by fewer than 2,500 people), but had at least 50 inhabitants (Skoufias, Davis, and
de la Vega 2001). The last criterion was relaxed early on to incorporate some semi-
urban localities (localities with between 2,500 and 14,999 inhabitants). The health
center criterion was relaxed in 1998 when mobile health clinics were introduced. The
inclusion of less marginal localities into the program was gradually extended through-
out the 19972003 period. By the year 2003, localities within the marginality grade
3 (average marginality) had been incorporated into the program. The program was
phased in through a different targeting design in urban areas starting in 2001. Given
that the urban targeting mechanism is very complex and very different to the one
implemented in rural and semi-urban areas, we focus our analysis on rural households.

II.Data, Measurement, and Summary Statistics

We use data from Mexicos National Survey on Relationships within the


Household (ENDIREH) 2003, a nationally representative household survey measur-
ing the prevalence and intensity of domestic violence, among other intrahousehold

The variables used to construct this marginality index were: (i) the localitys population, (ii) the number of
10

dwellings in the village, (iii) the proportion of the adult population who was illiterate, (iv) the proportion of adults
working in the agricultural sector (in 1990), the proportion of households (v) without potable water, (vi) without
drainage, (vii) without electricity, (viii) with a dirt floor (in 1990), and (ix) the average number of persons per room
in each household (in 1990).
11
Within a subsample of communities, a poverty indicator was constructed using household income data col-
lected from baseline surveys. A discriminant analysis was then separately applied in each region in order to identify
the household characteristics that maximized the correct classification of as poor and non-poor (minimizing Type
I and Type II targeting errors). Eligible households were identified on the basis of this welfare index (see Skoufias
2001 for a more detailed description of the targeting process).
186 American Economic Journal: economic policy february 2013

interactions. The survey, administered to 54,230 households during the months of


October and November 2003, contains data on household demographics, socioeco-
nomic characteristics, marital histories, household decision making, marital conflict,
and a module designed to measure the prevalence and severity of spousal violence.
The module included questions on physical, sexual, and emotional abuse in the twelve
months preceding the interview. It was administered to women 15 years or older living
with a husband or partner; only one (randomly selected) woman per household was
interviewed. In the following paragraphs, we provide a concise description of the vari-
ous measures of violence used in the analysis.12
Incidences of violence measures consist of dichotomous variables indicating
whether the female partner suffered physical, sexual, or emotional abuse from her
spouse or partner in the past 12 months. Physical violence includes pushing, kick-
ing, throwing objects, hitting with hands or objects, choking, attacking with a knife
or blade, and shooting. Sexual violence includes demanding sex, forced sexual acts,
and forced sexual relations. Emotional violence constitutes a complex set of behav-
iors (Strauss and Gelles 1990; Follingstad and DeHart 2000). Therefore, construct-
ing an incidence measure of emotional violence is a challenging task. On one hand,
we would like to use measures of emotional abuse as comprehensive as possible
to encompass abusive behaviors not usually captured in household surveys. On the
other hand, the construction involves making value judgments as to what constitutes
violence of a psychological but nonphysical form.13 In this study, our measure of
emotional violence includes the following behaviors: (i) the partner destroys or hides
things that belong to the woman or to the household; (ii) the partner locks her up and
prohibits her from leaving the house or from having visitors; (iii)he has threatened
her with a knife, blade, gun, or rifle; or (iv) the partner has threatened to kill himself,
her, or the children. Finally, we use a more stringent measure of emotional abuse,
limited to the last two behaviors mentioned above: threats with a weapon, or threats
of killing himself, her, or the children. The results are robust to alternative definitions
of these measures of incidence of emotional violence.14,15
Data on program participation comes from the ENDIREH survey, and is self-
reported by women. The measure we use is whether the woman receives benefits
from any government support program. Although Oportunidades is the largest and
most generous cash transfer program, there are other small government programs
that provide non-cash benefits. As a result, this measure may overreport the receipt

12
This follows closely the description provided in the documentation and results of the survey in Castro, Riquer,
and Medina (2006).
13
We restrict the questions to those least likely to involve the womans perceptions such as: a partner who stops
speaking to a woman, humiliates her, has turned her relatives against her, or has made her feel fear.
14
The exact survey questions and a more detailed description of the construction of these and other variables
employed in the analysis are available in online Appendix A. We also attempted to construct measures of the
severity of violence. These indices were constructed based on the responses to the questions described above (and
presented in detail in the online Appendix). However, we believe that the quality of the severity and intensity data
is quite limited, and chose not to use these in the main analysis.
15
An important caveat is that our data consists of self-reports of spousal abuse by female women in a marital
union. In this context, it has been impossible for us to collect data on more objective reports of violence, such as
incidents of female hospitalizations for assault (as in Aizer 2010). On the other hand, the survey data we use has
the advantage of being able to capture (imperfect) measures of threats of abuse and emotional abuse that would be
very difficult to capture with administrative data. We discuss the direction of potential biases in the results section.
Vol. 5 No. 1 bobonis et al.: public transfers and domestic violence 187

Table 1Description of Outcome Variables: Male-to-Female Spousal Abuse,


and Threats of Violence
Sample Difference
means in means
Beneficiary
All Beneficiary Nonbeneficiary nonbeneficiary
Variable name Description (1) (2) (3) (4)

Physical or sexual Indicator for any occurance of physical 0.16 0.13 0.18 0.049
violence or sexual abuse (0.037)
Physical Indicator for any occurance of physical abuse 0.11 0.09 0.13 0.039
violence (e.g., push, beating, attack with blade) (0.032)
Sexual Indicator for any occurance of sexual abuse 0.09 0.08 0.10 0.017
violence (e.g., use of force to have sexual relations) (0.027)
Threat of physical Indicator for any occurance of physical abuse 0.08 0.07 0.09 0.013
violence threat (e.g., threat of leaving, threat w/deadly (0.020)
weapon, threat to kill)
Emotional Indicator for any occurance of psychological, 0.11 0.10 0.12 0.016
violence abuse excluding perceptions questions (0.022)
(e.g., locked you in, threatened to leave you)

Notes: Sample means weighted by inverse sampling weights. Standard errors clustered at the village level. Significant
differences between beneficiary and nonbeneficiary households. N = 2,867. The sample includes women ages 25
and older in rural villages with children ages 11 and younger, in a marital union since the year 1997 or earlier.
***Significant at the 1 percent level.
**Significant at the 5 percent level.
*Significant at the 10 percent level.

of Oportunidades benefits. Although there is some noise in the data (since only
ten households per village are randomly selected to participate in the survey), the
data aggregated by percentiles of the marginality index distribution are incredibly
similar to the administrative data grouped in an analogous format. The correlation
of the proportion of beneficiary households using the ENDIREH survey data with
administrative data on the number of recipient households at the locality level in
2003 is 0.84 (not reported in the tables), which suggests that the information from
the household survey closely represents receipt of Oportunidades benefits.
The summary statistics based on the survey responses indicate that spousal vio-
lence is a pervasive phenomenon in rural Mexico. Sixteen percent of women in the
sample report having experienced some form of physical or sexual violence within
the last year (Table 1). The incidence rates of physical, sexual, and emotional vio-
lence are of similar magnitude in this population, with roughly 11 percent reporting
having experienced some form of physical violence, 9 percent reporting some act
of sexual violence, and 11 percent reporting emotional abuse in the previous year.
Threats of violent behavior and physical abuse are also quite common in this context.
Eight percent of women reported receiving threats by partners within the past year
of either leaving the household (with or without their children), of being physically
abused, or of being murderedrates in line with those reported for the incidence of
physical abuse. These measures compare favorably to reported incidence of abuse in
many other developing countries, but are high relative to the incidence rates reported
in developed countries. We also compare violence incidence rates between benefi-
ciary and nonbeneficiary women, and find that physical violence incidence rates are
3.9 percentage points (30 percent) lower among the former group; these patterns
preview the studys empirical findings.
188 American Economic Journal: economic policy february 2013

Table 2Comparison of Means, Beneficiary and Nonbeneficiary Households

Sample Difference in means


means (beneficiarynonbeneficiary)
Within
All Beneficiary Nonbeneficiary Overall villages
Pre-treatment covariate (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

Panel A. Female partner characteristics


Womans age 34.9 35.0 34.8 0.27 1.24
Indigenous woman 0.14 0.20 0.08 0.13*** 0.00
No schooling 0.08 0.12 0.05 0.07*** 0.02
Primary school 0.65 0.71 0.60 0.11*** 0.10*
Middle school 0.18 0.14 0.22 0.08*** 0.05
Secondary school 0.04 0.02 0.06 0.04*** 0.04*
Spousal violence in womans childhood 0.10 0.10 0.10 0.00 0.01
Panel B. Partner and household characteristics
Partners age 37.7 38.4 37.1 1.24* 3.04***
Indigenous partner 0.14 0.20 0.09 0.11*** 0.01
Partners schooling attainment 5.7 5.0 6.4 1.35*** 1.35***
Spousal violence in partners childhood 0.18 0.15 0.21 0.06 0.06
Cohabiting couple 0.19 0.19 0.20 0.01 0.06
Family size 5.8 6.3 5.4 0.94*** 0.66***
Years in union 15.2 16.0 14.3 1.67*** 2.30*
Panel C. Other household characteristics
Dirt floor 0.29 0.36 0.21 0.16*** 0.03
Firm floor 0.64 0.61 0.66 0.05 0.02
Access to waterprivate tap 0.69 0.60 0.78 0.18*** 0.00
Access to waterpublic tap 0.04 0.05 0.03 0.02* 0.02
Electricity 0.95 0.92 0.97 0.05*** 0.01
Telephone 0.15 0.11 0.20 0.09*** 0.08*
Radio 0.77 0.75 0.79 0.04 0.06
Drainage 0.69 0.60 0.78 0.18*** 0.00
Kitchen 0.89 0.89 0.89 0.00 0.02
Number of bedrooms 1.76 1.69 1.83 0.14* 0.02
Number of rooms 2.96 2.77 3.14 0.38*** 0.16
Joint significance test (2(25)) 213.67 195.37
[p-value] [<0.001] [<0.001]

Notes: Sample means weighted by inverse sampling weights. Significant differences between beneficiary and non-
beneficiary households. (The standard errors of mean differences are clustered at the village level.) N = 2,867. The
sample includes women ages 25 and older in rural villages with children ages 11 and younger, in a marital union
since the year 1997 or earlier.
***Significant at the 1 percent level.
**Significant at the 5 percent level.
*Significant at the 10 percent level.

Women in this sample come from relatively poor socioeconomic status house-
holds, since Oportunidades is targeted to poor households in marginalized rural
communities (Table 2). Approximately 8 percent of women in the sample have no
schooling, although two thirds of them (65 percent) have completed some primary
school (Table 2, panel A). A significant share of women (14 percent) is indige-
nous (based on the linguistic definition of indigenous background), which is highly
correlated with low socioeconomic status in Mexico. The womens average age is
34.9years. The reported proportion of women exposed to spousal abuse between
their parents during childhood is quite large, at approximately 10 percent. There is
considerable evidence from psychology and sociology regarding the intergenera-
tional transmission of spousal behavior. Therefore, women in this context may have
Vol. 5 No. 1 bobonis et al.: public transfers and domestic violence 189

a relatively higher likelihood of entering (and staying in) an abusive relationship,


thus explaining the prevalence of abuse reported above.
Most male partners belong to the same age group (the average partner age is
approximately 37.7 years), have similar schooling attainment levels, and are as
likely to have an indigenous background (Table 2, panel B). Interestingly, approxi-
mately 19 percent of couples live in a cohabiting union, a common observation in
rural Mexico given the potentially high relative costs of marriage for poor indi-
viduals in rural areas. The reported proportion of male partners exposed to spousal
abuse between their parents during their childhood is substantial, at approximately
18 percent. Finally, note that households are relatively large, with 5.8 members on
average, a statistic usually correlated with low socioeconomic status in the Mexican
context, they live in modest dwellings, and have limited access to certain types of
infrastructure (i.e., potable water, drainage, non-dirt/firm floors) (Table 2, panel C).

III. Empirical Methodology

Differences in spousal violence incidence rates between program beneficiaries


and nonbeneficiaries may in general reflect not only the effects of the Oportunidades
program on violent behavior within the household, but also any differences in char-
acteristics across groups that determine their selection into being program recipi-
ents and which independently affect spousal abuse patterns. Means comparisons of
household baseline covariates document this potential selection (Table 2). Various
potential reasons for this endogenous (self-) selection into the program may be:
(i) the targeting mechanism, which tries to ensure that low socioeconomic status
households are the actual program beneficiaries (Skoufias, Davis, and de la Vega
2001); (ii) the possibility that program take-up decisions may be endogenous, based on
the extent of womens decision-making power within the household; (iii) beneficiary
couples may be more likely to dissolve (e.g., divorce) due to the potentially greater
extent of conflict and the improvement in womens socioeconomic conditions outside
of current relationshipsleading to a negatively selected sample of households in
union; and that (iv) the program may lead to changes in marital matching and sort-
ing patterns due to the expected changes in household resources and intra-household
dynamics (especially for young individuals). As a result of these potential selection
and endogeneity problems, simple means comparisons of spousal abuse outcomes
among beneficiary and nonbeneficiary households would violate the assumptions of
unconditional independence necessary for identification of the program average treat-
ment effect (ATE) (Rubin 1974). To deal with these potential threats to validity, and
in the absence of random assignment of the program to households in the sample,
we use various strategies to minimize the extent of bias in program impact estimates.

A. Dealing with Endogenous Selection into the Treatment

In order to minimize potential selection biases as a result of the endogenous take-


up of the program, we restrict the analysis to a particular subset of households.
Specifically, we make three sample restrictions. First, we restrict the sample to intact
households with children ages 11 years and younger at baseline; children who are
190 American Economic Journal: economic policy february 2013

not old enough to attend secondary school. Schultz (2004) and Behrman, Sengupta,
and Todd (2005) report that school enrollment rates were close to one hundred per-
cent for primary school children among both program and comparison village chil-
dren in a randomized evaluation of the program, and, thus, that the program had
no impacts on primary school enrollment. Based on this evidence, we assume that
conditionality constraints are not likely to be binding for households with primary
school children, and assume that the take-up of the program is complete for house-
holds with only primary school-aged (or younger) children.16 This reduces the con-
cerns of endogenous program take-up based on womens decision-making power
(and tolerance for violence).
Second, we restrict the sample to women ages 25 and older (women in this sam-
ple were 19 years old and older in 1997, at the start of the initial phase-in of the pro-
gram). We do this based on the reasoning that if at some point during their lifetimes
these women lived in program villages, they would have been too old to be eligible
for program benefits as children, which could have potentially improved their socio-
economic status before marriage and possibly affected their marital outcomes.
Finally, we restrict the sample to couples who have been in union since 1997
or earlierwho made their current marital choices preceding the start of the pro-
gramin order to minimize the likelihood that the program directly affected their
marital matching patterns. These restrictions minimize potential confounding due to
marital sorting based on the tolerance for spousal abuse and other potential determi-
nants of the incidence of violence, such as the gains to marriage (e.g., Pollak 2004;
Siow 2009). These restrictions result in a sample of 2,867 households.
These restrictions are insufficient to construct comparable groups of beneficiary
and nonbeneficiary households for the empirical analysis. A comparison of means of
these predetermined characteristics among these groups of households indicate that
beneficiary households in the sample are of disproportionately low socioeconomic
status, based on their indigenous status, educational attainment levels, and their own-
ership of durables and/or access to public infrastructure (Table 2, columns24). A
joint test of significance of these differences in means rejects the null of equality at the
1 percent significance level (2(25)=213.67; p-value<0.001). This is not surpris-
ing since Oportunidades is targeted to poor households in marginalized communities.
To address the targeting of the program to these poor communities, we make
comparisons of beneficiary and nonbeneficiary households within villages in order
to remove all selection based on the village-level targeting of the program. This
within-village comparison dramatically reduces the observed selection into the pro-
gram. A within-village means comparison of the same predetermined characteris-
tics among these groups of households shows a drastic reduction inalthough not
a complete elimination ofthe observed predetermined observable characteristics
differences (Table 2, column 5). A joint test of significance of these within-village
differences in means still rejects the null of equality at the 1 percent significance level
(2(25)=195.37; p-value<0.001). We thus employ additional statistical methods

16
Overall program take-up rates throughout this period are approximately 90 percent and are expected to be
even higher for this subsample of households whose conditionality constraints are less likely to be binding (see
Gertler, Martinez, and Rubio 2012).
Vol. 5 No. 1 bobonis et al.: public transfers and domestic violence 191

(discussed in SectionIIIB below) to minimize the extent of confoundedness of the


correlation between the spousal violence outcomes and households beneficiary status.

B. Estimation

We mainly report ordinary least squares estimates of the average treatment effect
(ATE), conditioning flexibly on a set of predetermined individual and household
socioeconomic characteristics, as well as village fixed effects, in order to capture
any village-specific unobserved heterogeneity influencing spousal abuse patterns
(e.g., access to health clinics, community groups).17 The regression equation for
outcome Yivis the following:

Yiv= Ti v+
(1) Xiv+
v +iv ,

where the treatment indicator Ti v equals one for beneficiary household i in village
v and is zero otherwise; Xiv are the predetermined covariates that are possibly sig-
nificantly correlated with Ti v and Yiv; v are village fixed effects, and i v are unob-
served determinants of domestic violence. We cluster standard errors at the village
level. Under the usual conditional unconfoundedness condition, the estimates of
are those of the ATE.18
In order to address the potential concerns of unobserved heterogeneity in the
within-village household comparison, we pursue a set of tests and sensitivity analy-
ses inspired by the work on diagnostics of selection on observable and unobservable
variables (i.e., Imbens 2003; 2004; Altonji, Elder, and Taber 2005). Essentially, we
identify which observable characteristics (Xiv) that are correlated with treatment
assignment (Ti v) are also significant predictors of spousal abuse outcomes, as these
may plausibly be the covariates most correlated with the unobservable characteris-
tics that jointly determine program eligibility/take-up and abuse outcomes.19 For
those identified variablesthe womans age, partners age, partners schooling,
family size, and years in unionwe evaluate the robustness of the results to flex-
ible specifications that allow for high-order and interaction terms between these
variables, and also include interactions with the womans levels of education.20 The
results obtained from this sensitivity analysis are qualitatively and quantitatively
similar across specifications.

17
We cannot estimate village fixed-effects probit and logit models due to the low incidence of the dependent
variables and the relatively small within-village cell sizes. However, the estimates from probit and logit models
excluding village fixed effects are qualitatively similar to those from linear probability models, and are more pre-
cisely estimated in general. Estimates are available from authors upon request.
18
The consistency of the estimate also relies on the assumption of no spillovers across households within vil-
lages. To the extent that there are positive spillovers of the program in the same direction as the direct program
impacts, as shown for consumption and educational outcomes by Angelucci and De Giorgi (2009), Bobonis and
Finan (2009), and Lalive and Cattaneo (2009), the within-village comparison would lead to an underestimate of
average program effects.
19
In this context, we cannot effectively implement nonparametric or semiparametric methods such as
propensity-score matching or case-control matching, because our village-level cell sizes are too small to have a
sufficient sample for matching.
20
See online Appendix B for details.
192 American Economic Journal: economic policy february 2013

Finally, we also present estimates from empirical models that additionally con-
dition on households asset holding patterns and access to infrastructure. There is
a trade-off in doing so: on one hand, these controls may reduce concerns of unob-
served heterogeneity due to households varying wealth levels which may influence,
for instance, the opportunity costs of partners to engage in spousal abuse or the like-
lihood of separation. However, because these variables are measured at the time of
the survey, they are potentially endogenous regressors since households may choose
to make household improvements or purchase assets from the program-related cash
benefits (Gertler, Martinez, and Rubio-Codina 2012). The results are robust to the
inclusion and exclusion of these additional control variables.

IV. The Impacts of Oportunidades on Spousal Violence

Estimates of the average treatment effects of the program on physical and sexual
spousal violence, as well as emotional violence and threats outcomes, are displayed
in Table 3. Column 1 reports the estimated effects based on a specification where
control variables enter linearly. The following columns report specifications in
which we gradually include (i) interaction terms between the females educational
attainment and the partners age, the partners schooling attainment, household size,
and the couples years in union (column 2); (ii) polynomial terms for each partners
age, the partners education, household size, and years in union (column 3); and
(iii)the additional interaction of the higher-order terms (column 4). In column 5, we
present estimates with additional asset-holdings/infrastructure variables. Finally, in
column 6 we report OLS estimates excluding village fixed effects for comparison
purposes. Since the fully saturated models (column 4) are more likely to reduce or
eliminate potential biases, we consider these our preferred estimates.

A. Program Impacts on Physical and Sexual Violence

Domestic violence incidence rates are lower among beneficiary households than
among nonbeneficiary households; these effects are concentrated in reductions in
partners use of physical abuse. The estimated reduction in the incidence of either
physical or sexual violence varies among specifications, ranging between 8.0 and 10.5
percentage points (44 and 57 percent) (Table 3, row 1). The preferred specification
(Table 3, column 4) implies a reduction in the incidence of physical or sexual violence
by 8.2 percentage points (45 percent; significant at the 90 percent confidence level).
We find large and statistically significant reductions of 5.17.0 percentage points
(4055 percent) in the incidence of physical abuse (Table 3, row 2). Our preferred
estimate shows a reduction of 5.5 percentage points, or 43 percent (significant at the
90 percent confidence). The estimated reductions in sexual abuse are of similar mag-
nitude to those of physical abuse, although the estimated effects are less precisely
estimated. The point estimate from our preferred specification implies a reduction
in sexual abuse of 5.0 percentage points (51 percent), though imprecisely estimated.
To highlight a point on the direction of potential bias, note that the estimated
effects on both physical and sexual violence are of larger magnitude in absolute
terms than both the across-village OLS estimates (column 6) and the comparison
Vol. 5 No. 1 bobonis et al.: public transfers and domestic violence 193

Table 3Estimates of the Average Treatment Effect of Oportunidades on Spousal Violence

Mean of
dependent
Coefficient estimate on beneficiary status [1/0] (s.e.) variable
Dependent variables (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7)
Physical or sexual violence 0.096** 0.105** 0.088* 0.082* 0.080* 0.052 0.184
(0.047) (0.050) (0.050) (0.044) (0.041) (0.033)
Physical violence 0.062* 0.070** 0.051 0.055* 0.052* 0.051* 0.127
(0.032) (0.033) (0.033) (0.031) (0.030) (0.030)
Sexual violence 0.066* 0.073* 0.056 0.050 0.046 0.004 0.098
(0.039) (0.041) (0.037) (0.035) (0.033) (0.020)
Threat of violence 0.025 0.018 0.035 0.018 0.016 0.000 0.086
(0.037) (0.024) (0.037) (0.023) (0.022) (0.019)
Emotional violence 0.041 0.031 0.045 0.027 0.017 0.005 0.121
(0.040) (0.030) (0.042) (0.032) (0.029) (0.021)
Village fixed effects Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Individual and household Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
controls (linear)
Individual control interaction No Yes No Yes Yes Yes
terms
Individual control polynomial No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
terms
Asset controls No No No No Yes No
Observations 2,867 2,867 2,867 2,867 2,867 2,867

Notes: Each reported coefficient is from a different regression. Robust standard errors in parentheses, clustered at
the village level. Coefficient estimates from village fixed effects and/or OLS regressions weighted by survey sam-
pling weights. Controls include indicator variables for woman and partners age, woman and partners indigenous
status, womans schooling-level indicators, the partners schooling attainment level, household size, cohabiting
couple indicator, years in union, and variables measuring reported histories of spousal abuse in parental household
during childhood. For details on polynomial and interaction terms, see Section IV.
***Significant at the 1 percent level.
**Significant at the 5 percent level.
*Significant at the 10 percent level.

of raw differences (see Table 1). This suggests that, under our identifying assump-
tions, cross-village unobserved heterogeneity leads to an underestimate of the true
program effects.21

B. Program Impacts on Threats of Spousal Violence and Emotional Abuse

In contrast to the results for physical abuse, we do not find evidence of program
impacts on the incidence of emotional violence or threats of violence. The point
estimates suggest moderate increases of 1.6 to 3.5 percentage points in the incidence
of threats of abuse and of 1.7 to 4.5 percentage points in the incidence of emotional
abuse, but none are statistically distinguishable from zero (Table3, rows 4 and 5).
Our preferred point estimates suggest a moderate increase of 1.8 percentage points

21
We can also characterize the bias in our program impact estimates if there is systematic underreporting of
physical abuse, under certain conditions. Suppose the only measurement error problem is one of underreport-
ing (i.e., there are no cases of reports of violence when in reality these do not occur) and the treatment induces
less underreporting of any form of domestic violence, or: Pr(reportic =1|Tic =1, Xic , ic , violenceic =1)>
Pr(reportic =1|Tic =0, Xic , ic , violenceic =1), then since our estimated effects are negative, the lesser under-
reporting should lead to an underestimate (in absolute terms) of the estimated impact on physical/sexual violence.
194 American Economic Journal: economic policy february 2013

and 2.7percentage points, respectively. Note again that the within-village com-
parison estimated effects are greater, suggesting that the cross-village unobserved
heterogeneity leads to an underestimate of the true program impacts.22
The results indicate substantial reductions in physical abusebut not in other
forms of male-to-female spousal abuseamong beneficiary households. Moreover,
the estimates of emotional violence (weakly) suggest that the incidence of the pat-
tern of verbal non-physical abuse in the household may be increasing. We would
like to further examine whether there is some degree of substitution in the male part-
ners use of physical and emotional abuse, as predicted by theories of instrumental
violence. This is examined in more detail in the following section.

V. Interpretation and Additional Empirical Evidence

A. Theoretical FrameworkHusbands Private Information,


Threats of Violence, and Spousal Abuse

The findings provide prima facie evidence against traditional cooperative and
noncooperative theories of the family, which generally predict that these transfer pro-
grams, by improving womens bargaining position in the household, will decrease
the incidence of spousal abuse, both physical and emotional.23 One possible alter-
native explanation is that male partners may use threats of violence as instruments
of coercion to appropriate or (re)gain control over household resources or decision-
making (i.e., extract rents) from their female counterparts. In this model, a rein-
terpretation of Bloch and Raos (2002) theory of domestic violence, male partners
have private information regarding the gains to marriage, such as their own private
income or their status within the household based on traditional gender roles.24 Due
to this private information, they can use threats of abuse to coercively demand trans-
fers from their wives, and use violence strategically depending on whether their wife
abides to the act of coercion. The model has a main testable implication:

Prediction: If marginal increases in womens socioeconomic conditions


lead to an increase in the amount of rents that husbands are willing to
extract, this will lead to (i) an increase in the incidence of threats of
spousal abuse with no associated physical violence and (ii) a reduction in
the actual incidence of physical abuse.25

22
A caveat to this result is that if the treatment induces less underreporting of any form of domestic violence,
this should lead to a positive bias in the estimated impacts.
23
Economic theories of spousal violence focus on noncooperative bargaining models in which female partners
incomes, and financial resources for women outside the marriage more generally, influence the womans threat point
and thus reduce the level of violence in equilibrium (Tauchen, Witte, and Long 1991; Farmer and Tiefenthaler 1996;
1997).
24
Bloch and Raos (2002) model is one of spousal violence as a bargaining instrument used by male partners
to extract larger dowry payments from the brides family. The bargaining takes place between the families of the
bride and groom, rather than within the couple itself.
25
This prediction is consistent with sociological theories of male backlash. These predict that as womens
economic opportunities improve, violence against them may increase because men feel their traditional gender role
threatened (e.g., Macmillan and Gartner 1999).
Vol. 5 No. 1 bobonis et al.: public transfers and domestic violence 195

The model predicts opposing effects for the incidence of threats of spousal abuse
without actual physical abuse, and the incidence of physical abuse. This result is
driven by the fact that an increase in the transfer demanded by male partners will
lead to a change in the threshold value of the husbands cost of using threats, increas-
ing the proportion of individuals who strictly prefer to exercise threats of violence
and extract resources from their partners, as opposed to using physical violence. A
concise exposition of the model and of the general prediction is available in online
Appendix C.

B. Additional Test of the Instrumental Violence Hypothesis


and Heterogeneous Impacts

Since the theory predicts that the transfers may lead to an increase in the inci-
dence of threats of spousal abuse with no associated physical violence, in order to
implement these tests we need to construct measures that capture this phenomenon.
Therefore, we use two sets of additional violence measures: (i) indicator variables
for the incidence of threats of spousal abuse and no incidence of physical (or sexual)
violence; and (ii) indicator variables for the incidence of emotional violence and no
incidence of physical (or sexual) violence.26 Moreover, to examine heterogeneous
responses, we employ a measure of the female partners decision-making power
within the household and another of the households expected gains to marriage. The
former is an index measure created by Casique (2006) and reported in Castro, Riquer,
and Medina (2006) that aggregates the female partners decision-making power based
on responses to 13 questions regarding which partner(s) contribute to the households
decisions in areas such as: the female spouses labor force p articipation decision; the
households expenditure decisions; decisions regarding when to have sexual rela-
tions; the use of contraceptives; and fertility decisions.27 The latter is the product of
a secondary school completion indicator for the female partner and the educational
attainment levels of the male partner, as partners educational attainment are comple-
mentary in households marital output (e.g., Becker 1991; Siow 2009).
To test Prediction 1, we estimate empirical models analogous to those in equa-
tion(1), using our theory-driven threats and emotional violence outcomes as depen-
dent variables. We report estimates from our preferred specifications with fully
saturated controls (Table 4). According to our estimates, the program led to substan-
tial increases in the incidence of violent threats or acts of emotional violence with no
associated acts of physical or sexual abuse, in some cases more than doubling the inci-
dence of these acts. Threats of violent behavior with no physical abuse increased by
approximately 3.0 to 3.1 percentage points, depending on the specification (Table 4,
row 1). The results are robust to expanding the definition of physical abuse to include

26
The assumption that the level of spousal abuse that triggers the noncooperative outcome is physical abuse
rather than forms of emotional abuse such as forcible confinementgenerates the result. It is not clear that some
dimensions of emotional violence (e.g., forcible confinement, threats of murder) are at a lower bar than acts of
physical violence. We address this empirically by modifying the definition that we use to construct the measure
of emotional violence, including the responses to the questions on whether (i) the male partner stops speaking to
a woman; (ii) humiliates her; (iii) has turned her relatives against her; or (iv) has made her feel fear. Using these
alternative measures of low intensity emotional violence suggest the same result.
27
For details, see online Appendix A.
196 American Economic Journal: economic policy february 2013

Table 4Estimates of the Effects of Oportunidades on the Substitution


between Emotional Violence and Physical Violence

Coefficient estimate on beneficiary status [1/0]


Mean of
Conditional on no physical dependent
Overall sample and/or sexual violence variable
Overall/
OLS OLS OLS OLS conditional
Dependent variable (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
Threat of violence and 0.031** 0.030** 0.033* 0.032* 0.027/0.031
no physical violence (0.014) (0.013) (0.018) (0.018)
Threat of violence and 0.029** 0.028** 0.024 0.022 0.024/0.029
no physical/sexual violence (0.013) (0.013) (0.017) (0.016)
Emotional violence and 0.044** 0.039** 0.036 0.032 0.048/0.055
no physical violence (0.021) (0.020) (0.028) (0.027)
Emotional violence and 0.052*** 0.050*** 0.040* 0.040* 0.035/0.043
no physical/sexual violence (0.018) (0.017) (0.023) (0.023)
Joint significance test p-value [0.025] [0.031]
Village fixed effects Yes Yes Yes Yes
Individual and HH controls (linear) Yes Yes Yes Yes
Individual control interaction terms Yes Yes Yes Yes
Individual control polynomial terms Yes Yes Yes Yes
Asset controls No Yes No Yes
Observations 2,867 2,867 2,611/2,479 2,611/2,479

Notes: Each reported coefficient is from a different estimator. Robust standard errors in parentheses, clustered at
the village level. Coefficient estimates from village fixed effects regressions weighted by survey sampling weights.
Controls include indicator variables for woman and partners age, woman and partners indigenous status, womans
schooling-level indicators, the partners schooling attainment level, household size, cohabiting couple indicator,
years in union, and variables measuring reported histories of spousal abuse in parental household during childhood.
For details on polynomial and interaction terms, see Section IV. The sample sizes in specifications conditioning on
no episode of physical violence or no episode of physical or sexual abuse are 2,611 and 2,479, respectively.
***Significant at the 1 percent level.
**Significant at the 5 percent level.
*Significant at the 10 percent level.

s exual violence, with estimates ranging from 2.8 to 2.9 percentage points (statistically
significant at 95 percent confidence; Table 4, row 2). The similarity in the estimated
impacts is expected, since the violent threat measure includes threats of sexual abuse.
We also find evidence of a substantial increase in the incidence of emotional violence
associated with a lack of physical violence (Table 4, row 3). We estimate increases
of 3.94.4percentage points (8192 percent) (significant at conventional confidence
levels). These results are also robust to taking into account the lack of incidence of
sexual abuse (Table 4, row 4). The point estimates are in the 5.05.2 percentage points
range and are very precisely estimated. The estimated effects across dependent vari-
ables are jointly significantly different from zero at conventional confidence levels
(p-values: 0.025 and 0.031). That said, we get somewhat smaller point estimates in
specifications where we use as dependent variables the incidence of threats or of emo-
tional abuse conditional on the lack of physical/sexual abuse (reducing the sample
size by 9 to 14 percent)and lose some precision (columns 34).28

28
It is not possible to characterize the direction of bias of these estimates as a result of measurement error
due to underreporting (without making additional assumptions). To see this, decompose the dependent variable
Vol. 5 No. 1 bobonis et al.: public transfers and domestic violence 197

Table 5Estimates of Program Impacts by Category of Female Partners Decision-Making Power

Coefficient estimate on beneficiary status [1/0] (s.e.)


Female partners with low decision- Female partners with medium/high Mean of
making power decision-making power dependent variable
Conditional Conditional Medium/
Overall sample sample Overall sample sample Low high
OLS OLS OLS OLS OLS OLS Overall/conditional
Dependent variable (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)
Physical or sexual violence 0.083 0.074 0.051 0.049 0.188 0.182
(0.082) (0.081) (0.045) (0.045)
Physical violence 0.070 0.061 0.021 0.011 0.115 0.132
(0.074) (0.074) (0.043) (0.041)
Threat of violence and 0.007 0.012 0.008 0.043* 0.038* 0.043 0.012/ 0.033/
no physical violence (0.016) (0.018) (0.023) (0.025) (0.023) (0.027) 0.014 0.039
Threat of violence and 0.013 0.015 0.013 0.040* 0.036* 0.036 0.010/ 0.030/
no physical/sexual violence (0.014) (0.016) (0.029) (0.024) (0.021) (0.028) 0.013 0.036
Emotional violence and 0.008 0.004 0.000 0.031 0.025 0.030 0.019/ 0.061/
no physical violence (0.024) (0.026) (0.034) (0.031) (0.030) (0.036) 0.021 0.070
Emotional violence and 0.004 0.007 0.024 0.046* 0.044* 0.051* 0.016/ 0.043/
no physical/sexual violence (0.020) (0.023) (0.036) (0.025) (0.023) (0.030) 0.019 0.053
Village fixed effects Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Individual and HH controls Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
(linear)
Individual control interaction Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
terms
Individual control polynomial Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
terms
Asset controls No Yes Yes No Yes Yes

Observations 1,110 1,110 1,003/939 1,757 1,757 1,608/1,540

Notes: Robust standard errors in parentheses, clustered at the village level. Coefficient estimates from village fixed
effects regressions weighted by survey sampling weights. Controls include indicator variables for woman and part-
ners age, woman and partners indigenous status, womans schooling-level indicators, the partners schooling
attainment level, household size, cohabiting couple indicator, years in union, and variables measuring reported his-
tories of spousal abuse in parental household during childhood. For details on polynomial and interaction terms,
see Section IV.
***Significant at the 1 percent level.
**Significant at the 5 percent level.
*Significant at the 10 percent level.

We also estimate subgroup average program impacts for the main variables of inter-
est for the couples in which female partners are categorized as having low or moderate/
high decision-making power, respectively (Table 5). Although we have large differ-
ences according to our point estimates in both physical and sexual violence incidence
rates, we do not have sufficient precision to say that these are lower among beneficiary
households than among nonbeneficiary households in both groups of households
(Table 5, rows 12). In contrast, our theory-based measures suggest that the sub-
stitution of physical/sexual violence for threats of abuse and emotional violence is
concentrated among households in which women have a moderate degree of decision-
making power (Table 5, rows 36, columns 45). There is no evidence of substitution

in the following manner: Pr(report threat=1 and report violenceic=0|Tc )=Pr(reportic =1|Tic , threatic =1)
Pr(threatic =1|Tic )Pr(reportic =0|Tic , report threatic =1, violenceic=0)Pr(violenceic =0|Tic , report threatic =1).
The direction of bias additionally depends on the last two terms on the right-hand side of the equation (which
conditions on the incidence of reporting the threat of abuse, one of the dependent variables measured with error).
198 American Economic Journal: economic policy february 2013

among the subsample of couples where women have very low d ecision-making
power (Table 5, rows 36, columns 12), although we cannot statistically distin-
guish the effects for this group relative to the moderate decision-making power sub-
group. Again, tests based on the conditional sample give similar point estimates with
a lower degree of precision (Table 5, columns 3 and 6).
To examine whether the effects vary across households with varying expected
gains to marriage, we estimate models similar to (1) where we allow the treatment
to vary (linearly) with the expected gains to marriage (i.e., with the product of part-
ners educational attainment levels), of the following form:

Yiv =1Ti v+
(2) 2Ti v GMi v+
1 GMi v+
Xiv2+
v +iv ,

where GMivdenotes our measure of the expected gains to marriage (the product of
partners educational outcomes). The Xiv term includes flexible controls for each
partners educational attainment, thus capturing some of the potential heterogeneity
due to individuals endowments and preferences.29 The heterogeneous effects esti-
mates from these models are reported in Table 6, columns 1 and 2.
We find large reductions in the incidence of physical or sexual violence among
couples with low expected gains to marriage, in the order of 5.6 to 8.3 percentage
points, and no statistically significant evidence of a reduction in the magnitude of the
effect among couples with higher expected gains to marriage (Table 6, rows1 and 2).
In contrast, our models on the substitution effects provide strong evidence consistent
with the theoretical predictions. We find substantial increases in the incidence of
threats of violence associated with no physical (or sexual) abuse of 3.3to 3.6per-
centage points among couples with very low gains to marriage, effects that decrease
in magnitude for couples with greater expected gains to marriage (Table6, rows3
and 4). The estimates for the substitution between emotional and physical/sexual
violence provide analogous results: a substantial increase of 4.8 to 5.6 percentage
points among couples with low expected gains to marriage, and effects that decrease
in magnitude for couples with greater expected gains (Table6, rows5 and 6).30
Finally, we examine heterogeneous responses by couples type of marital
union/arrangement. We estimate subgroup average program impacts for the main
variables of interest for the couples reporting being married or cohabiting separately
(including an interaction term of the cohabitation indicator with the couples pro-
gram beneficiary status) (Table 6, columns 34). The point estimates suggest that
the effects vary significantly across marital and consensual unions, with some of
the point estimates being significantly larger (in absolute value) for the latter group,
although not consistently across all measures. The estimates are also not statistically
significant across subgroups.31

29
A note of caution is warranted: the models exploiting heterogeneous effects could be subject to concerns of
unobserved heterogeneity in the preferences or endowments of these households, which could place some doubt on
our interpretation of the findings.
30
The effects are quantitatively similar in specifications including additional asset controls (available from
authors).
31
Estimates with subgroup-specific regression models suggest even larger differences in program impacts esti-
mates across subgroup, although (again) these are imprecisely estimated (available from authors).
Vol. 5 No. 1 bobonis et al.: public transfers and domestic violence 199

Table 6Estimates of Heterogeneous Effects by the Expected Gains


to Marriage and by Type of Marital Relationship

Coefficient estimates on Coefficient estimates on


Beneficiary Beneficiary status Effect for
Beneficiary status gains Beneficiary cohabitation cohabiting
status to marriage status status couples
[=(3)+(4)]
Overall sample Overall sample
OLS OLS OLS
Dependent variable (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
Physical or sexual violence 0.083* 0.004 0.088** 0.028 0.060
(0.044) (0.011) (0.044) (0.081) (0.086)
Physical violence 0.056* 0.004 0.056* 0.007 0.049
(0.031) (0.010) (0.032) (0.074) (0.071)
Threat of violence and 0.036** 0.018* 0.023 0.043 0.066*
no physical violence (0.016) (0.010) (0.015) (0.039) (0.038)
Threat of violence and 0.033** 0.018* 0.023 0.031 0.054
no physical/sexual violence (0.016) (0.010) (0.015) (0.038) (0.038)
Emotional violence and 0.048* 0.016 0.038 0.029 0.067
no physical violence (0.025) (0.010) (0.025) (0.045) (0.044)
Emotional violence and 0.056*** 0.018* 0.054** 0.009 0.044
no physical/sexual violence (0.021) (0.010) (0.022) (0.048) (0.046)
Village fixed effects Yes Yes
Individual and HH controls (linear) Yes Yes
Individual control interaction terms Yes Yes
Individual control polynomial terms Yes Yes
Asset controls No No
Observations 2,867 2,867

Notes: Robust standard errors in parentheses, clustered at the village level. Coefficient estimates from village fixed
effects regressions weighted by survey sampling weights. Controls include indicator variables for woman and part-
ners age, woman and partners indigenous status, womans schooling-level indicators, the partners schooling
attainment level, household size, cohabiting couple indicator, years in union, and variables measuring reported his-
tories of spousal abuse in parental household during childhood. For details on polynomial and interaction terms,
see Section IV.
***Significant at the 1 percent level.
**Significant at the 5 percent level.
*Significant at the 10 percent level.

This is not surprising given two important methodological issues with the esti-
mate of these subgroup-specific effects. First, the sample of cohabiting couples is
quite smallthere are 524 cohabiting coupleslimiting our ability to get sufficient
precision for these subgroups effects estimates. Also, a comparison of predetermined
characteristics across beneficiary and nonbeneficiary households among cohabiting
couples suggests that these are quite dissimilar, even within villages.32
In summary, although we ultimately cannot rule out some degree of selection
and omitted variable biases in our estimates, we take comfort in the fact that the
theoretical predictions and our set of results suggest a clear symmetry between the
incidence of physical and sexual abuse on one hand and the incidence of emotional

32
See Table A2 in online Appendix A. Although the differences among cohabiting couples are not precisely esti-
mated (partly due to the small sample sizes), beneficiary households seem substantially more negatively selected
than nonbeneficiary ones. As a result, it is not surprising that the point estimates for cohabiting couples are possibly
overestimated.
200 American Economic Journal: economic policy february 2013

abuse and threats of violence on the othera symmetry that is difficult to reconcile
with monotonic selection bias arguments. Furthermore, we address other potential
concerns of unobserved heterogeneity in Section VC.

C. Evaluating Alternative HypothesesStress and Conflict


in the Household, Selection Based on Divorce

The asymmetric information story for the instrumental use of violence is not
the only possible explanation for these results. For instance, the program increases
the level of household resources, not just the socioeconomic opportunities available
to (or more specifically, the income of) adult women. If this increase in house-
hold resources reduced stress levels among partners and/or improved the emotional
health of adults (or children) in the family, it could lead to a reduction in the inci-
dence or severity of spousal abuse. Another alternative explanation is that the pro-
gram conditions generate conflict and greater stress within the household. While
our results on physical and emotional violence are consistent with the instrumental
violence hypothesis, in isolation they do not rule out the possibility of these alterna-
tive hypotheses.
Although we do not have measures of the emotional well-being or mental health
of adult household members, we can assess whether there is some reduction in other
measures of intrahousehold conflict, by examining whether there is a reduction in
the level of violence against children perpetrated by each parent. The measures of
incidence of violence against children consist of various dichotomous variables
indicating whether either the male or the female partner (or each exclusively) beat
or insult the child as a result of him or her behaving badly.33
The resulting estimates suggest no impact of the program on the incidence of
physical violence (i.e., beating) of any parent against children (Table 7, panel A).
The point estimates suggest a small 1.6 percentage points increase in the incidence of
abuse, but the results are statistically indistinguishable from zero (Table 7, panelA,
column 1). In a specification where we allow for the effects to vary by couples
expected gains to marriage, we do not observe heterogeneous responses based on
this dimension (Table 7, panel A, column 2).34 Additionally, although we observe
very moderate increases in violence against children of approximately 2.6 points by
female partners (statistically insignificant; Table 7, panel A, column 3), the effects
are estimated to be essentially zero for male partners (Table 7, column 5). These
estimates do not vary significantly by couples expected gains to marriage (Table 7,
columns 4 and 6).35
The analogous estimates for the incidence of insults towards children suggest
no distinct evidence of reductions in violence, overall, and for female partners
(Table 7, panelB, columns 1 and 3). The point estimates do suggest that the male
partners insults towards children decrease by 4.2 percentage points (statistically

The exact questions are: Do you (does your husband/partner) beat your children when they behave badly?
33

(Yes, No).
34
We thank a referee for suggesting this test.
The effects are quantitatively similar in specifications including additional asset controls (available from
35

authors).
Vol. 5 No. 1 bobonis et al.: public transfers and domestic violence 201

Table 7Tests of Stress and Conflict in Household HypothesisViolence against Children

Coefficient estimate on beneficiary status [1/0]


Any parent Female partner Male partner
OLS OLS OLS OLS OLS OLS
Dependent variable (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
Panel A. Parent hits children
Beneficiary 0.016 0.007 0.026 0.014 0.006 0.008
(0.055) (0.055) (0.052) (0.051) (0.039) (0.040)
Beneficiary 0.036 0.044 0.008
Gains to Marriage (0.028) (0.029) (0.013)
Mean of dep. variable 0.548 0.548 0.506 0.506 0.217 0.217
Panel B. Parent insults children
Beneficiary 0.016 0.021 0.050 0.047 0.042 0.037
(0.061) (0.062) (0.059) (0.060) (0.041) (0.043)
Beneficiary 0.020 0.013 0.020
Gains to Marriage (0.018) (0.012) (0.017)
Mean of dep. variable 0.264 0.264 0.200 0.200 0.168 0.168
Village fixed effects Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Individual and HH controls (linear) Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Individual control interaction terms Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Individual control polynomial terms Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Asset controls No No No No No No
Observations 2,864 2,864 2,864 2,864 2,867 2,867

Notes: Robust standard errors in parentheses, clustered at the village level. Coefficient estimates from village fixed
effects regressions weighted by survey sampling weights. Controls include indicator variables for woman and part-
ners age, woman and partners indigenous status, womans schooling-level indicators, the partners schooling
attainment level, household size, cohabiting couple indicator, years in union, and variables measuring reported his-
tories of spousal abuse in parental household during childhood. For details on polynomial and interaction terms,
see Section IV.
***Significant at the 1 percent level.
**Significant at the 5 percent level.
*Significant at the 10 percent level.

insignificant; Table 7, panelB, column 5). Again, the estimates do not vary sig-
nificantly by couples expected gains to marriage. Most relevant for our argument,
among male partners in relationships with minimal gains to marriage, we find a sta-
tistically insignificant reduction in the incidence of insults by 3.7 percentage points
(Table 7, column 6). That said, the precision of all these estimates is not sufficiently
strong to reject moderately important increases or decreases in the incidence of vio-
lence against children.
The program impact estimates could also suffer from bias if Oportunidades caused
higher marital dissolution rates, and beneficiary couples who remained in a marital
union had differing unobserved determinants of spousal abuse than nonbeneficiary
couples. As a result of this attrition bias, being a beneficiary could potentially be corre-
lated with unobservable characteristics of couples who chose to remain in a relation-
ship. To the extent that unions in which women would be more likely to suffer from
abuse are the least [most] likely to dissolve as a result of the program, it would lead
to a downward [upward] bias (in absolute terms) in the estimates of physical abuse
and an upward [downward] bias in the emotional abuse effects. Unfortunately, we
do not have the necessary longitudinal or recall data among these women to estimate
these divorce-driven attrition rates for this sample. However, Bobonis (2009, 2011)
202 American Economic Journal: economic policy february 2013

showsusing the randomized evaluation of the program during the 199899


periodthat divorce rates in this context were minimal0.75 percent of couples
had dissolved after two yearsand nearly identical across groups0.76 percent-
age points higher in the treatment relative to the control group. This would suggest
that we can confidently set aside a potential selection problem due to marital dis-
solution. We further take this potential source of bias into consideration by esti-
mating Horowitz and Manski (2000) nonparametric treatment effect bounds, using
Boboniss (2009, 2011) experimental estimates of the divorce-driven attrition rates.
Given the relatively similar attrition patterns across groups, this method yields rea-
sonably tight bounds.36

VI.Conclusion

The main objective of this paper is to provide evidence of the effect of the
Oportunidades conditional cash transfer program on the prevalence of male-to-
female spousal violence in rural Mexico. The evidence suggests that women in
beneficiary households are approximately 40 percent less likely to be victims of
physical abuse than nonbeneficiary women, impacts that may come as a conse-
quence of an increase in womens empowerment within the household. However,
women in beneficiary households are as likely as nonbeneficiary women to receive
threats of violent behavior and be victims of emotional abuse, and substantially more
likely to receive threats of abuse with no associated physical abuse, than women in
nonbeneficiary households. The results may have important implications for policy,
since they provide a mixed view of conditional cash transfer programs effective-
ness in improving womens empowerment within the household. The program may
increase the likelihood of violent threats, which may in turn compromise womens
emotional health and other aspects of their well-being.
As a second contribution, we show how these results are consistent with a model
of asymmetric information in household bargaining, enriching the existing work
studying the relationship between womens income and economic opportunities,
the extent of spousal abuse, and the degree of female empowerment. Specifically,
the study contributes to the empirical work opening the black box of intrahousehold
decision making. For instance, as presented in our bargaining framework, infor-
mation asymmetries may lead to distinct equilibria across households: nonviolent
households achieve Pareto optimal allocation decisions whereas violent ones suffer
from the destruction of a share of the gains to marriage. Considering this hetero-
geneity may help inform future empirical analyses regarding the consequences of
CCTs and other social policies on intrahousehold resource allocation decisions (het-
erogeneity which is generally ignored in this empirical literaturesee for instance
Attanasio and Lechne 2002; Rubalcava, Teruel, and Thomas 2009; and Bobonis
2009) as well as empirical work examining the Pareto efficiency of intrahousehold
allocations (e.g., Browning 1994 and Udry 1996).

36
These are available from the authors upon request.
Vol. 5 No. 1 bobonis et al.: public transfers and domestic violence 203

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