Sociology Ph.D. Dissertations


Normative Beliefs, Financial Strains, and IPV in Young Adulthood

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Peggy Giordano (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Steve Jex (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Danielle Kuhl (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Monica Longmore (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Wendy Manning (Committee Member)


Intimate partner violence (IPV) has been identified as a serious social and public health problem. Although most of the early research focused on samples of married adults, recent estimates from nationally representative data indicate that roughly 30% of young adults report IPV in their young adult relationships (Cui, Ueno, Gordon, & Fincham, 2013), and that two-fifths experience physical or sexual victimization by young adulthood (Halpern, Spriggs, Martin, & Kupper, 2009). Despite these figures, there is limited work focused on relationship violence among young adults. Further, while a number of studies have shown associations between early family experiences (i.e. witnessing the parents’ violence toward one another or the parents’ use of violence toward the child) and later risk, the role of the young adult’s own developing attitudes about the acceptability of violence (the cultural dimension) and structural constraints (financial difficulties, conflict over economic issues) have received relatively little attention. This dissertation draws on a life course framework, and incorporates aspects of social learning theory, the stress process, and the family stress model, to examine the extent to which cultural and structural influence processes work in tandem to influence relationship violence among a sample of young adults. Analyses draw on data from the Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study (TARS) (n = 928) to examine the influence of attitudes toward IPV, life course strains, and relationship strains on intimate partner violence during young adulthood. First, I examine variation in endorsement of specific attitudes accepting of violence. Although overall endorsement of attitudes toward IPV is relatively low, results of the current analyses indicate that women, relatively to similarly situated men, are more accepting of violence across a range of different contexts or conditions. Additionally, individuals reporting IPV are more accepting of violence across the specified conditions, suggesting that these attitudes do play a role in understanding violent responses. Consistent with a social learning perspective, exposure to family violence and prior relationship experiences (partner controlling behavior) also emerge as significant predictors of attitudes toward IPV in multivariate models. Analyses also explore variations in this young adult sample in reports about financial concerns, and then consider whether financial concerns are related to IPV risk. I find that, as expected, sociodemographic background factors are associated with financial concerns. However, this association is largely explained by indicators of one’s current life circumstances (i.e., education). Additionally, women, individuals with at least a college degree, and those engaged in full-time employment report fewer financial concerns. In models predicting IPV, results indicate that financial concerns are associated with higher odds of IPV, even after taking into account traditional predictors. Yet the association between financial concerns and IPV is largely explained by the addition of the index of attitudes toward IPV, suggesting an interplay of these cultural factors and structural constraints. Finally, I examine predictors of relationship strains that relate to economic concerns (conflict due to finances, financial resentments), and then assess the influence of the experience of these relationship strains on the odds of IPV. I find that these relationship strains are related to perception of imbalance in the relationship (relational asymmetry) and level of instrumental support provided by the respondent and his/her partner. Additionally, family income, as well as a range of adult status and relationship characteristics, contribute to the experience of these types of relationship strains. In a final set of models, results indicate that relationship strains are related to increased odds of IPV net of a full roster of covariates. This association persists net of attitudes toward IPV, indicating that financial strains as a source of conflict are a significant risk factor for IPV within young adult relationships. Taken as a whole, these findings highlight the utility of a relationship-centered approach to intimate partner violence among young adults, but suggest the need to target cultural (attitudes about violence) as well as tangible (structurally-based) constraints and challenges that young people often confront as they manage conflict within their relationships.