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What causes marital conflict, and which marital conflicts are more likely to result in men’s violence against their wives? It has long been argued that men’s jealousy over women’s infidelity is the strongest impetus to men’s lethal and non-lethal violence against female partners. Less is known about the extent to which women’s jealousy over men’s infidelity precipitates men’s violence against female partners. Husbands are more likely than wives to commit infidelity, and men and women report a similar frequency and intensity of jealous emotions during recalls of potential infidelity. If men are likely to use time and resources for pursuit of extramarital sexual relationships, wives’ jealousy may play a critical role in mate retention, but at potential cost of instigating marital arguments and violence against wives. Given men’s greater size and strength, violence against wives may be used as a “bargaining” tool to strategically leverage a selfish outcome, despite potential costs to the victim, aggressor, and offspring.

This is the first study to document content and prevalence of marital arguments, and prevalence of men’s violence against wives during such arguments in a small-scale society, the Tsimane of Bolivia. We show that men’s diversion of resources from the family is a major source of arguments between spouses and husbands’ violence against their wives. We argue that husbands employ violence to limit wives’ mate retention effort and maintain men’s opportunities to pursue extramarital sexual relationships. We define violence against wives as any physical contact initiated by a husband with intent to harm a wife (hereafter termed wife abuse). The research design minimizes response and sampling bias in two ways: 1) data are obtained independently from both spouses instead of only one spouse, permitting assessment of spousal consistency in reporting; and 2) couples are sampled randomly rather than being self-selected for a high degree of marital conflict.


NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Evolution and Human Behavior. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Evolution and Human Behavior, volume 33, issue 5, in 2012.

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