Sex, money, and paternity: The evolutionary psychology of domestic violence

Aurelio José Figueredo, Laura Ann McCloskey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Three hundred sixty-five women, with children between six and 12 years of age, were interviewed and tested on various issues theoretically related to domestic violence. The sample was stratified into three subsamples of volunteer women recruited from: (1) a temporary shelter for battered women, (2) the local community and screened specifically for the reported presence of domestic violence, (3) the same community sources and screened only for the reported presence of children of the specified age group. Factor analytic structural equation models were constructed for the predictors of violence by the woman's main sexual partner toward the woman and towards the woman's child. Common factors were constructed for the four major dimensions of domestic violence- verbal, physical, escalated, and sexual-and for the three major predictors of domestic violence-sex, money, and paternity. The sex factor indexed the general quality of the sexual relationship dynamics, the money factor indexed the couple's socioeconomic relations, and the paternity factor indexed the genetic stakes held in the family by the woman's main sexual partner. These three factors jointly accounted for 60% of the variance in violence toward the woman. Violence towards the woman-the only significant direct effect-accounted for 26% of the variance in violence toward the child. These findings suggest that the principal perpetrators of domestic violence may be competitively disadvantaged males, pursuing coercive sexual and parental strategies without regard to the deleterious indirect effects upon their own genetic offspring.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)353-379
Number of pages27
JournalEthology and Sociobiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1993


  • Child abuse
  • Coercive parental strategy
  • Coercive sexual strategy
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Genetic paternity
  • Incest
  • Marital infidelity
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Spousal rape
  • Wife battering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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