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High School Dating Abuse Hinders Education, Study Says

Teaching high school students to have healthy dating relationships can seem tangential at best to high schools struggling to improve academic achievement and graduate more students. Yet new research suggests early dating violence can have lifelong effects on women's educational attainment.

A team of researchers led by Adrienne E. Adams, an assistant professor of ecological-community psychology at Michigan State University in East Lansing, tracked nearly 500 single mothers in Michigan who took part in the longitudinal Women's Employment Study from 1996 to 2002.

As part of the study, the women, who were age 32 on average, were asked several questions about past dating violence, such as whether and at what age a romantic partner had ever: "pushed, grabbed, or shoved you"; "hit you with his fist"; "threatened to harm, or harmed, your family or friends"; "forced you into any sexual activity against your will"; and "harassed you at work, training, or school or interfered with your attempts to go to work, training, or school." Adams and her colleagues noted women who experienced this sort of abuse before age 17.

Nationwide, the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey estimates one in five women and nearly one in seven men who have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner were first abused between the ages of 11 and 17.

Adams and her colleagues found that women who were exposed to dating violence during adolescence completed six months' less education on average than other women in the study, and they were more likely to report having been abused in a relationship in the last 12 months. Moreover, during the four years of follow-up study, women who had been abused in teenage relationships saw nearly $450 less growth in annual income than women who were not abused, after controlling for other factors. That might not seem like much, but when you consider that the average income for women in the study was $7,000 a year, this was a significant gap—and Adams found it was tied directly to abused women's lower initial educational attainment.

Adrienne Adams.jpg

"There's vast evidence showing how important education is for people's quality of life," Adams said in a statement on the findings. "Providing educational and career-development support for women who are abused seems like an obvious choice in terms of societal investment."

The study is small, but it seems to lend support for the U.S. Department of Education's call this spring for school districts to address adolescent dating violence. Perhaps healthier high school relationships would give male and female students alike more time to concentrate on preparing for their academic futures.

The study, "The Effects of Adolescent Intimate Partner Violence on Women's Educational Attainment and Earnings," was published online this week in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

Photo: Researcher Adrienne Adams discusses potential effects of teenage-dating violence. (Michigan State University)

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