Despite efforts to eradicate relationship violence, intimate partner violence (IPV) has continued to affect countless families nationally. Lifetime estimates in the National Violence Against Women Survey, reported in 2000, demonstrated that 25 percent of women experienced abuse by a known intimate. Annual incidence rates identified that 1.5 million women and 834,732 men experienced IPV. Moreover, victims in a study of South Carolina high school students reported a variety of adverse mental health consequences and life outcomes, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, self-esteem deficits, anxiety and homelessness.

Research explored factors related to violence perpetration and victimization in relationships and demonstrated moderate support for the role of “family-of-origin characteristics” on adult IPV perpetration and victimization. Using a sample of 502 Texas residents, this study assessed the impact of family-of-origin characteristics on adult IPV perpetration and victimization. *This research was funded by the Crime Victims’ Institute at Sam Houston State University. The views presented in this report do not represent the position of the funding agency.


The intergenerational transmission of violence framework suggests that children who witness or experience violence in their family-of-origin learn it is appropriate for conflict resolution in interpersonal settings. Parents model behavior by engaging in violence against one another and directed at their children. When children witness inter-parental violence, the efficacy of aggression is reinforced. As adults, they may reproduce lessons learned in early childhood. For many years, research has supported this proposition. The learning process has also been applied to psychological abuse tactics, where childhood exposure produced increased adult psychological aggression.

Further Reading: Transmission of Violence Framework

Byron Egeland (1993), “A history of abuse is a major risk factor for abusing the next generation” in Current controversies on family violence.

Pamela C. Alexander, Sharon Moore & Elmore R. Alexander, III (1991), “What is transmitted in the intergenerational transmission of violence?” in Journal of Marriage and the Family.

Ola W. Barnett, Tomas E. Martinez & Brendon W. Bluestein (1995), “Jealousy and romantic attachment in maritally violent and nonviolent men” in Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

Raul Caetano, John Schafer, Catherine L. Clark, Carol B. Cunradi & Kelly Raspberry (2000), “Intimate partner violence, acculturation, and alcohol consumption among Hispanic couples in the United States” in Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

Miriam K. Ehrensaft, Patricia Cohen, Jocelyn Brown, Elizabeth Smailes, Henian Chen & Jeffrey G. Johnson (2003), “Intergenerational transmission of partner violence: A 20-year prospective study” in Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Marilyn J. Kwong, (2000). “The intergenerational transmission of relationship violence,” A. Thesis, Simon Fraser University.

Debra Kalmuss (1984), “The intergenerational transmission of marital aggression” in Journal of Marriage and the Family.

Sandra M. Stith, Karen H. Rosen, Kimberly A. Middleton, Amy L. Busch, Kirsten Lundeberg & Russell P. Carlton (2000), “The intergenerational transmission of spouse abuse: A meta-analysis” in Journal of Marriage and Family.

David M. Fergusson, Joseph M. Boden, & L. John Horwood (2006), “Examining the intergenerational transmission of violence in a New Zealand birth cohort” in Child Abuse and Neglect.

In maladaptive families, children may be recipients of violence. For some, these experiences may pave the way for adult violence. Children witness their parents’ use of violence to cope with difficulties or frustration and then may be more likely to develop similar strategies in adulthood. Research illustrates that children raised in abusive families have a greater tendency to aggress against adult partners compared to counterparts. Additionally, parents who use corporal punishment teach their children that it is appropriate, and sometimes necessary, to hit those closest to them. Studies have supported a correlation between harsh physical punishment during childhood and adult IPV.

Experiencing familial violence has also been correlated with adult IPV victimization. The link between violence in the family-of-origin and later adult aggression has focused on the ways children learn positive strategies for relating to and interacting with others. When children imitate antisocial behavior, they are ill-equipped to manage relationships using pro-social alternatives to problem solving and conflict management, according to L.D. Eron in the Handbook of Antisocial Behavior. Normative peers have less tolerance for children with maladaptive social behaviors and subsequently reject attempts at friendship. Children with social skill deficits gravitate toward maladapted peer groups who reinforce aggressive tendencies, display aggression and engage in deviance. As they age, these adolescents select dating partners from this pool of individuals (.pdf) — a form of assortative mating among individuals who collectively lack healthy interpersonal skills, which may result in later relationship conflict.


Education, employment and income also enhance vulnerability to IPV, where the stress associated with a lack of education and underemployment or unemployment produce (pdf). “Given the impact of parenthood on relationships, risk factors for the initiation and perpetuation of IPV also may vary in families with and without children.” — Bair-Merritt et al., 2008 Traditional gender roles and positive attitudes toward the use of violence in relationships have also been correlated with IPV, may mediate the intergenerational transmission of violence and, in some studies, better predictors of adult IPV when compared to family-of-origin factors. Alcohol use plays a role in violence against women generally, and IPV more specifically. Finally, religious involvement has negatively influenced victimization risk, according to at least three studies. Also see: Franklin, C.A,. & Menaker, T.A. (2014). Feminism, status inconsistency, and women’s intimate partner victimization in heterosexual relationships. Violence Against Women


The Public Policy Research Institute (PPRI) at Texas A&M University collected data in 2007 for the Fourth Annual Texas Crime Victimization Survey, and researchers at the Crime Victims’ Institute at Sam Houston State University analyzed the victimization data. A computer-assisted digitized dialing system, randomly selected 700 Texas citizens for telephone interviews. The analysis was limited to subjects who were either currently in a romantic relationship or had been in a romantic relationship in the previous 24 months. The final sample for the analysis was 502 cases, which included 189 males and 360 females.


The study considered two dependent variables representing “Any IPV Victimization” and “Any IPV Perpetration.” Surveyors used the Revised Conflict Tactics Scale 2, a series of items that measure conflict resolution tactics in relationships including healthy, pro-social conflict resolution, psychological abuse tactics and more serious physical abuse tactics. Independent and control variables included:TBR7: Victimization
Monday: Bostaph’s intro
Monday: King & Bostaph, et al. on Idaho victim services
Tuesday: Fisher on sexual violence on campus
Wednesday: Miller on theory of change
Thursday: Cares crime victims’ classroom needs
Friday: Franklin on the victim-offender connection
Friday: Campbell on police and victims of sexual violence

Violence in the Family-of-Origin. Two variables captured experiences of violence in the family-of-origin. First, respondents were asked if they had witnessed violence as children. Second, respondents were asked if they had been physically punished (e.g., spanking, hitting or slapping) as children.

Acceptance of the Use of Violence in Relationships. Subjects were asked, “Generally speaking, are there situations that you can imagine in which you would approve of a man slapping his wife’s/girlfriend’s/partner’s face?” Similarly, subjects were asked, “Generally speaking, are there situations that you can imagine in which you would approve of a woman slapping her husband’s/boyfriend’s/partner’s face?” Responses were summed to capture acceptance of the use of violence in relationships.

Alcohol Consumption. Global alcohol consumption frequency was captured by asking subjects, “In general, how often do you consume alcoholic beverages (e.g., wine, beer or liquor)?” Subjects selected answers that ranged from “never” to “daily.”

Masculine Gender Orientation. Respondents indicated agreement with statements about male control in a relationship as it referred to sexual intercourse and decisions about working outside the home. Responses ranged from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree” and answers were summed so higher numbers represented enhanced masculine gender orientation.

Several measures were included in the analysis as control variables: sex, age, race/ethnicity, educational attainment, employment status, religiosity and relationship status.


The first analysis investigated IPV perpetration. Model 1 in Table 2 demonstrates that both of the family-of-origin violence variables were statistically significant. Indeed, subjects who witnessed inter-parental violence as children were 1.9 times more likely than counterparts to perpetrate IPV as adults. Similarly, subjects who were the recipients of violence, including physical or corporal punishment as children were 2.1 times more likely to perpetrate IPV as adults. Younger subjects and unemployed subjects were more likely than counterparts to perpetrate IPV.

The second analysis investigated IPV victimization. Model 2 in Table 2 demonstrates that both family-of-origin variables significantly predicted adult IPV victimization. These relationships suggest that violence in the family-of-origin may be substantial in contributing to adult relationship dysfunction by heightening victimization risk. Witnessing inter-parental violence nearly doubled the odds of IPV victimization during adulthood. Further, being the recipient of childhood physical punishment increased the odds of adult IPV victimization by 2.2 times. Age, employment and marital status also significantly impacted IPV victimization risk. Subjects who were older, employed and married faced decreased odds of IPV victimization when compared to counterparts.

Table 2. Multivariate Regression Analysis: Correlates of IPV Perpetration and Victimization

Model 1

IPV Perpetration


Model 2

IPV Victimization


Independent Variables    b SE Exp(b)    b SE Exp(b)
Witnessing Violence .621 .231 1.861* .370 .264 1.955*
Physical Punishment .723 .269 2.060* .790 .273 2.203*
Acceptance of Violence .224 .267 1.251 .028 .267 1.029
Alcohol Consumption .075 .074 1.078 .131 .076 1.140†
Masculine Gender Roles -.021 .085 .979 .165 .085 1.179†
Sex of Respondent .344 .225 1.411 .488 .226 1.629*
Age -.032 .008 .968* -.024 .008 .976*
White .603 .322 1.828† .471 .327 1.601
Hispanic .422 .367 1.526 .286 .371 1.331
Education .008 .064 1.008 .072 .064 1.074
Employment -.466 .222 .628* -.552 .226 .576*
Religious Commitment .006 .097 1.006 -.100 .098 .905
Married -.108 .275 .898 -.599 .292 .549*/
Cohabiting .025 .478 1.025 -.123 .485 .884
Constant .899 .695 2.458 .032 .696 1.033
Model x2 62.542* 70.709*
NagelkerkeR2 .163 .185

* p < .05, p < .10


Several conclusions are worthy of attention. First, family-of-origin factors were significantly correlated with IPV perpetration and victimization — a conclusion that reiterates existing research on IPV. Demographic variables also correlated with IPV: people who were older were less likely to perpetrate violence or experience victimization. Similarly, employed people were less likely than counterparts to perpetrate or experience IPV. Finally, marriage emerged as a protective factor for IPV perpetration in this sample.

While these results are important, they are not without limitations. First, this analysis is cross-sectional, meaning the data are only a single snapshot in time, not a long-term examination. Any significant relationships must be interpreted accordingly. Second, the questionnaire employed here relied on retrospective recall among an adult sample. Scholars have highlighted the value in asking respondents to remember if something significant happened during childhood as compared to asking how many times something significant happened during childhood. Both the questions and the coding of items in the analysis reflected this strategy. Third, reports of current IPV perpetration and victimization were derived from one member of the two-person partnership. Studies have discussed the importance of involving both partners in capturing data on IPV. Research continues to query one member of the partnership with success in identifying violent relational behavior. Finally, while this study employed a random sample of adult community members, participants were located within Texas — a geographic region that may have presented important cultural considerations when interpreting and generalizing conclusions.


Results of this study have important implications for preventing IPV. Even though not every child who grows up surrounded by violence will become an IPV perpetrator or victim, secondary partner violence prevention programs may be warranted for these children, especially before late childhood. Prevention programs could be tied to services offered in women’s shelters and to court orders of protection for domestic violence. Not all children raised in dysfunctional familial environments will come to the attention of authorities like Child Protective Services or victim service agencies. Similar programs would be beneficial if provided in schools, churches and civic groups.

Prenatal and parent training for those who have used excessive punishment with small children or who were raised in maladaptive home environments may help change a pattern that, for some children, sends them on a trajectory of abuse and victimization. Ultimately, the conclusions presented here reiterate the need for a continued focus on the etiology of IPV, both in terms of victimization and perpetration, in order to prevent further incidents of violence.

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The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.