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The Correlation between Race and Domestic Violence is Confounded with Community Context

Michael L. Benson, John Wooldredge, Amy B. Thistlethwaite, Greer Litton Fox
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/sp.2004.51.3.326 326-342 First published online: 1 August 2004


Why do African Americans appear to have a higher likelihood of engaging in domestic violence than whites? To address this question, we draw on insights from social disorganization theory and recent research on urban poverty. We argue that the apparent correlation between race and domestic violence is confounded with the different ecological contexts typically occupied by African Americans and whites. Using data from wave 2 of the National Survey of Families and Households and the 1990 U.S. census, we show that: (1) rates of domestic violence for both African Americans and whites vary systematically by type of community; (2) the correlation between race and domestic violence is substantially reduced or disappears altogether when whites are compared to African Americans in similar ecological contexts; and (3) individual-level risk factors for domestic violence appear to operate similarly for both African Americans and whites.

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