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Does female labor force participation reduce intimate partner violence (IPV)? IPV is the most common form of violence against women worldwide. Existing studies predict that employment should reduce IPV by increasing women’s bargaining power, alleviating poverty, and limiting the time they spend in close physical proximity to their intimate partners. But these predic-tions are theoretically and empirically contested. We test the effects of employment on IPV us-ing randomized controlled trials with harmonized research designs and outcome measurement strategies in Egypt and Tunisia. In Egypt, we evaluate a public works program that dispro-portionately benefited women; in Tunisia, the program we evaluate benefited men and women more equally. Consistent with variations on the standard household bargaining model in which men perpetrate IPV to maintain their status within the household, we find that the Egyptian program exacerbated IPV and diminished psychological wellbeing, even among women who were eligible for the program but were not randomly selected to participate, while the Tunisian program did not. These differential effects on IPV appear to be driven by the programs’ equally disparate economic implications. The Egyptian program increased employment, earnings, and empowerment among women, but not among their spouses or other household members; the Tunisian program improved economic outcomes for women, their spouses, and other members of their households more evenly. The Egyptian program’s adverse effects on IPV persisted over time, but did not spill over onto women who were not eligible to participate in the first place. We conclude by considering the implications of our findings for the design of economic empowerment programs in the future.
Eric Mvukiyehe is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Duke University.