Female employment and intimate partner violence: Evidence from Syrian Refugee inflows to Turkey

Bilge Erten and Pinar Keskin

Journal of Development Economics, Volume 150 (2021)



This paper investigates the causal effect of female’s economic empowerment—specifically an increase in female employment—on the probability of experiencing domestic violence in Turkey. In particular, the authors exploit the differences in the inflow of refugees after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in March 2011 across Turkish provinces as an exogenous shock to female employment.

The analysis is based on: (a) province-level data on registered refugees in 2014 from the Turkish migration authority; and (b) individual-level data on domestic violence and other socioeconomic outcomes from Turkey’s National Survey of Domestic Violence against Women conducted in 2008 and 2014. The survey captures data on whether a woman had ever experienced different forms of physical, sexual, or psychological violence from her intimate partner.

Main results:

  • Syrian refugee inflows negatively affected the labor market outcomes of Turkish women, without significantly affecting the labor market outcomes of Turkish men. Syrian refugees primarily displaced female workers, with stronger effects in the private sector driven by displacement within agricultural and service sectors. There is no evidence that Syrian refugee inflows significantly affected male labor market outcomes. Syrian refugees in Turkey have been predominantly employed in the informal sector because they were not permitted to apply for work permits until January 2016. Consequently, Syrian refugees who found work in the informal sector were more likely to displace Turkish women, who have tended to be employed in industries with high degrees of informality, such as agriculture and domestic services.
  • There is a significant decline in intimate partner violence in the provinces that received a higher share of Syrian refugees. Inflows of Syrian refugees, and consequent reduction in local female employment, reduced the likelihood that Turkish women experienced physical, sexual, and psychological violence from their husbands.
  • There is some suggestive evidence that changes related to both employment and domestic violence are concentrated among women with lower levels of educational attainment, who were more likely to be displaced by the Syrian refugees.
  • Changes in partner characteristics, gender attitudes, cohabitation patterns, or the division of labor within the household do not explain these results.
  • The disproportionate reduction in women’s employment and income induced by the Syrian refugee inflow shock may result in a decline in men’s incentives to use violence as a means of extracting resources from women. Similarly, the reduction in employment of women may relieve potential tensions in the household stemming from men having a preference against women’s work outside of home. As a result, women’s exposure to intimate partner violence declined.

These results are consistent with instrumental theories of violence, whereby a decline in a woman’s earning opportunities reduces the incentives of her male partners to use violence as a means of rent extraction or gaining control over household decision-making. They are also consistent with men having a preference against their partner’s employment, which implies that men reduce their violent behaviors once women comply with men’s preferences.