From a dynamic developmental systems perspective, IPV in couples is conceptualized as an interactional behavior that is responsive to the conjoint developmental characteristics and behaviors of each partner, as well as contextual factors and relationship influences and processes. Guided by this perspective, risk factors were organized by: (a) contextual characteristics of partners such as demographic factors (age, gender, socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, acculturation, stress), neighborhood and community factors, school context factors; (b) developmental characteristics and behaviors of the partners such as family factors (family-of-origin exposure to IPV violence, experience of child abuse, parenting), peer associations and influences (association with deviant peers, social and emotional support), psychological and behavioral factors (conduct problems/antisocial behavior, anger, hostility, personality disorders, depression, suicide attempts, substance use), cognitive factors (hostile attributions, attitudes, and beliefs); and (c) relationship influences and interactional patterns (marital/relationship status, relationship discord, relationship satisfaction, attachment, negative emotionality, jealousy).
Study inclusion criteria were as follows: articles published in a peer-reviewed journal that examined one or more risk factors for partner aggression, recruitment of a representative community sample or a clinical sample with a control-group comparison and a response rate of 50% or greater, use of a physical or sexual violence outcome measure (not solely a psychological aggression measure), and control of confounding factors in the analyses. A total of 228 articles were included in the review – 170 articles with adult samples over age 18 years; and 58 articles with adolescent samples age 18 years or younger. The Conflict Tactics Scale persists as the primary form of IPV measurement across studies.
In the area of demographic risk factors, younger age, deprivation, including unemployment and low income, and minority group membership was predictive of IPV. For Hispanics, being born in the U.S. is a risk factor, but degree of acculturation is not predictive. Stress, including acculturation stress is predictive of IPV. Findings regarding risk from neighborhood/community and school context were mixed.
Exposure to violence between parents in the family of origin and experience of child abuse are still much researched risk factors that show evidence of low to moderate risk for IPV and of mediation by more proximal factors such as antisocial behavior and adult adjustment.
Studies of protective factors included parenting – particularly positive involvement in the adolescent’s life (monitoring, support) and encouragement of nonviolent behavior, which were relatively robust low-to-moderate predictors of dating violence. In general social support and tangible help are protective for perpetration and victimization
In the realm of social and behavioral risk factors evident in adolescence, involvement with aggressive peers is a relatively strong predictor of involvement in dating aggression, whereas higher friendship quality is a protective factor. Regarding risk from psychopathology, conduct problems or antisocial behavior has emerged consistently as a substantial risk factor for later IPV involvement for men and women. In contrast, the findings for depressive symptoms indicate an association that is not robust in multivariate analyses. Depressive symptoms may be a stronger risk factor for IPV perpetration for women than for men.
Findings in the area of substance use were particularly interesting. Whereas some evidence was found for an association of alcohol use and IPV, it was of a low magnitude and not found consistently, especially when controlling for other factors. On the other hand, there was evidence that there could be a stronger association between drug use and IPV. There was some indication that alcohol use could be a stronger risk factor for women’s than for men’s perpetration of IPV.
Regarding relationship factors, relationship status (e.g., married, cohabiting, separated) is related to IPV, with married individuals being at lowest risk and separated women being particularly vulnerable. Low relationship satisfaction and high discord or conflict are proximal predictors of IPV, with high discord in particular being a robust predictor.
One notable finding of this review is that regardless of any differences in frequency and/or severity of engagement in IPV by girls/women and boys/men, overall there are more similarities than differences in risk factors. The main areas with indications of gender differences were in higher risk for women’s perpetration of IPV associated with internalizing problems and alcohol use.
Eight implications for intervention and policy are drawn from the review. These include focusing on proven (particularly on malleable) risk factors; raising public awareness of the importance of risk factors for both men’s and women’s perpetration and victimization; awareness of risks from internalizing factors and alcohol use for women in particular; increased awareness of risk contexts such as relationship breakdown; addressing drug use as a risk factor; adding an IPV prevention component to youth interventions for associated problems such as substance use and conduct problems; improve couples’ problem-solving and interaction skills to reduce conflict; start preventive interventions at an early age.
Twelve recommendations are made for future research including areas where increased understanding is needed, particularly how conflicts escalate to IPV, the interfaces among risk factors, the roles of drug use, deviant associations, and stress, further understanding of protective factors and the role of moderators of risk. Regarding study design issues, the need for more studies based on strong theoretical models, particularly models of dyadic behavior, is highlighted, along with the need to include both partners in more studies; the importance of examining the effects of changing partners (break up and re-partnering) on dyadic behavior and IPV, and the need for studies with stronger methodology within well-designed community or clinical control studies, including observational methodology. Finally, most studies are of male-female couples, and more well-designed studies of same-sex couples are needed.