Becker Friedman Institute
for Research in Economics
The University of Chicago

Research. Insights. Impact. Advancing the Legacy of Chicago Economics.

Health, Human Capital and Domestic Violence

February 2017
Nicholas W. Papageorge, Gwyn C. Pauley, Mardge Cohen, Tracey E. Wilson, Barton H. Hamilton, Robert A. Pollak

We study the impact of health shocks on domestic violence and illicit drug use. We argue that health is a form of human capital that shifts incentives for risky behaviors, such as drug use, and also changes options outside of violent relationships. To estimate causal effects, we examine chronically ill women before and after a medical breakthrough and exploit differences in these women’s health prior to the breakthrough. We show evidence that health improvements induced by the breakthrough reduced domestic violence and illicit drug use. Our findings provide support for the idea that health improvements can have far-reaching implications for costly social problems. The policy relevance of our findings is compounded by the fact that both domestic violence and illicit drug use are social problems often seen as frustratingly impervious to interventions. One possible reason is that the common factors that drive them, such underlying health or labor market human capital, are themselves very persistent over time. Our study provides a unique test of this hypothesis by examining what happens when factors underlying violence or drug use exogenously shift due to a medical technological advancement. Our findings suggest that both violence and drug use could be reduced by improving women’s access to better healthcare.