A study of nearly 4,000 Pennsylvania women suggests that domestic abuse can have a long-term and profoundly destructive impact on survivors' ability to earn money. The study authors looked at women who applied for civil orders of protection against their abusers between 1995 and 1996; they found for nearly all of them, their earnings stagnated in the year after receiving the restraining order. The authors speculate that it's not just abuse hurting women's earning power: it's also the time and money required to fight their abusers in court.
The study, which you can read in full here, was authored by University of Pittsburgh sociology professors Melanie M. Hughes and Lisa D. Brush and published in the American Sociological Review. They found that the women's wages tended to rise in the year before they petitioned for a Protection from Abuse (PFA, the term Pennsylvania uses for a civil restraining order). Looking at the women's wages over the next six years, though, they found significant "shocks and stalls," and estimated that the women lost between $312 and $1018 in the first year after filing for the PFA. (That's $1,000 in 1996 money; if the findings hold true today, it'd be more like $1,500.)
Women's earnings might suffer after they petition because they need to take time off to go to court, to get medical care, or to look for a safe place to live, said Dr. Hughes, a professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh. "And for some women, petitioning for a restraining order may not put an end to the abuse, or may even cause the abuse to escalate, and the continued abuse may interrupt women's work."
Dr. Brush, also a professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh, said, "sometimes abusers sabotage women's employment and their compliance with work requirements. They show up at work, and that can be a really big problem."
The authors also said that receiving welfare was one of the only ways for an abuse survivor's earnings not to suffer as much. Women who applied for welfare after applying for a PFA had a cushion that helped protect them from the "shock and stall" effect, and women who were on welfare before they got the PFA didn't see the shock and stall at all. "Welfare may help the lowest-earning women establish independence from abusers," the authors speculate. "laying the ground-work for sustained earnings growth."
This all might sound like a "no shit," but the effects of domestic abuse on work and earning potential haven't been very extensively studied. Brush and Hughes don't suggest anything that abuse survivors need to do differently to avoid seeing their earnings dip; the problem is systemic, part of the pitfalls of a society where it costs serious time and money to get away from an abuser.
"Our results suggest that not only the costs of abuse, but also the price of protection, contribute to earnings inequality and women's economic insecurity," they write.
Hughes told the Times that it's vital that employers understand the dynamics of abuse and don't punish their employees for being survivors: ""At a minimum, we need to stress the importance of employers not firing these women," she told the paper. "When these men show up at their workplaces, sometimes the women themselves are blamed for creating disruption at the workplace, so we need to make sure that employers know that it's inappropriate to hold these women responsible for the behavior of those men."
Image via Shutterstock