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Job Stress Equals Bruises


UC Riverside Sociologist Says Stress, Danger and Ridicule on the Job
Could Mean Bruises for Partners at Home

Data Compares Blue Collar Workers and White Collar Workers

(March 11, 2003)

Here’s an arresting research report during Women’s History Month: Men who work in female-dominated professions, such as clerks and classroom aides, are 47 percent more likely to lash out in violence against wives or live-in girlfriends than a control group of white-collar managers, according to a recent study by a sociologist at the University of California, Riverside.

That is just one of the surprises found by Scott Melzer, a postgraduate researcher, who used a national data set study to compare blue-collar occupations with white-collar managerial workers.

“I’m familiar with the stereotype that blue-collar workers would be more likely to abuse their wives, but I wanted to do a more complex analysis to see what kind of effect occupations have on domestic violence,” Melzer said.

He looked at the rates of domestic violence among men who work in physically dangerous jobs (such as emergency workers, utility linesman); violent jobs (such as military, corrections, law enforcement); and female-dominated jobs (such as classroom aides, receptionists) and compared them to a control group of white-collar managerial workers. He took into consideration differences in income, age and education, and pinpointed how much change in the rate of domestic violence could reasonably be attributed to a man’s occupation.

Melzer tested several hypotheses and found that men in the following occupations have higher rates of violence at home than men in managerial occupations:
• Men in 'female-dominated occupations (i.e., clerical workers), 47% higher;
• Men in ‘physically violent occupations’ (i.e. police, military, correctional) 43 percent higher.
• Men in 'dangerous occupations' (i.e., working with explosives, mining, emergency workers), 23% higher.

Some of his findings seem like common sense. Men in stressful or dangerous or violent jobs bring that stress home and are more likely to engage in domestic abuse than the control group of white-collar managers. Melzer called that a “spillover effect.”

But other discoveries go against the expected. Men who have “self-selected” into a female-dominated world have higher rates of domestic violence than typical white-collar managers. Melzer theorized that society’s pressure and expectations about the role of men in the work world might mean that a man is ridiculed by society for his choice to do “women’s work” and thus brings that extra stress home.

“It is about societal expectations of what is appropriate for men, how these expectations are often unhealthy for not only the men in these jobs but also for their intimate partners,” Melzer said. “Unfortunately, some men choose violence when faced with these issues.”

Domestic violence is a serious social problem that hurts families of men from all occupations and backgrounds. About two million women are hit each year and the best estimates are that 25 to 50 percent of women will be hit in their lifetime, Melzer said.

“It is not correct to assume that men in blue-collar occupations are more likely to be wife abusers than men in white-collar occupations.” In fact, he said, the majority of men do not resort to physical violence at all.

“Domestic violence is a much more complex issue than the stereotype you hear about the blue-collar guy who beats his wife,” Melzer said. “As a society, and as we raise our children, we need to be more accepting of people’s choices and less polarized by gender, Melzer said. “Until that happens, men need to handle their stress in ways that do not endanger their partners.”

The research was published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, November 2002. The title of the paper is "Gender, Work and Intimate Violence: Men's Occupational Violence Spillover and Compensatory Violence."
The National Data Set is the 1988 National Survey of Families and Households.

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