Sociology Ph.D. Dissertations


A Life Course Perspective on Intimate Partner Violence: The Role of Prior Partners and Adverse Relationship Histories

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Wendy Manning (Committee Co-Chair)

Second Advisor

Peggy Giordano (Committee Co-Chair)

Third Advisor

Monica Longmore (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Danielle Kuhl (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Liangfeng Sun (Other)


Intimate partner violence (IPV) is recognized as a major public health issue throughout the United States with attention focusing on the causes and consequences of IPV. In the last decade, research has emphasized the importance of relationship contexts for theorizing about IPV. Most of this research focuses on current dyadic contexts, leaving a gap in knowledge on how prior partners and relationship histories matter. Drawing on a life course perspective, I use five waves of data from the Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study (n = 1,021) to examine how adverse relationship histories are associated with outcomes in young adulthood. In a mixed methods analysis, I first use survey data focusing on both men and women to examine how adverse partner characteristics (i.e., delinquency, infidelity) may carry over into the current relationship, or whether these negative dynamics may inform a learning curve in which an individual moves away from violence or other adverse dynamics. Problematic prior partner behaviors are both directly and indirectly associated with current experiences of IPV. Results support both the carryover and learning curve pathways, and are similar for men and women. Building on these findings I analyze in-depth narratives to explore the underlying meanings and mechanisms related to carryover and learning curve processes. Moreover, I examine alternative pathways that prior studies have hinted at but remain unexplored, such as ‘opting out’ of relationships altogether. These results underscore the role of partner communication and reveal complexities in the study of prior partners and relationship histories. Finally, I examine how current and prior experiences of IPV and infidelity may be associated with socioeconomic outcomes in young adulthood. Findings suggest that adverse dynamics in the current relationship and relationship histories with negative dynamics may reduce future financial prospects. Experiences of IPV operate in a similar manner for men and women, whereas relationship histories with infidelity are only significant for men. Together findings from this dissertation provide insight to a more complete portrait of relationship histories that include IPV and other adverse dynamics, and how these prior experiences are associated with relationship and socioeconomic outcomes in young adulthood.