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Hitting Without a License: Testing Explanations for Differences in Partner Abuse Between Young Adult Dates and Cohabitors

NCJ Number
Journal of Marriage and the Family Volume: 60 Issue: 1 Dated: February 1998 Pages: 41-55
Date Published
February 1998
15 pages

This study documented differences in levels of partner abuse between young adults in dating relationships compared to cohabiting relationships in a representative sample of 21-year-old men and women, followed by the testing of hypotheses about factors that might explain differences.


The study found that young adult cohabiters exceeded daters in rates and levels of partner abuse. Regardless of statistical controls for aggression, education, stress, opportunity, relationship quality, balance of power, social ties, conventionality, and informal sanctions, cohabiters were still nearly twice as likely as daters to be physically abusive toward their partners. Although the authors acknowledge that their testing of various explanatory hypotheses cannot completely explain why cohabiters engage in more partner abuse than young adults who are still in the dating phase of their relationship, they are convinced from their data and analysis that young cohabiters differ from young daters and should be analyzed as a distinct type of couple in future research. The sample was an unselected birth cohort that has been studied extensively for over 20 years as part of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development study. It is a longitudinal investigation of the health, development, and behavior of a complete cohort of births between April 1, 1972, and March 31, 1973, in Dunedin, New Zealand. At age 21, each study member came to the research unit within 60 days of his/her birthday for a full day of individual data collection. For the purposes of this study, an intimate relationship was defined as a relationship with a romantic partner during the past 12 months that had lasted at least 1 month. The methodology description discussed the measurement of partner abuse at age 21 and predisposing factors and mediators. 2 tables and 73 references

Date Published: February 1, 1998