Abstract: Intimate Partner Violence and Financial Strain: The Mediating Role of Psychological Distress (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Intimate Partner Violence and Financial Strain: The Mediating Role of Psychological Distress

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Liberty Ballroom K, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Hsiu-Fen Lin, MSW, PhD Candidate, Rutgers University, NJ
Kristina Nikolova, PhD, Assistant Professor, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Judy L. Postmus, PhD, Dean & Professor, University of Maryland at Baltimore, MD
Background and Purpose

Women are at higher risk of experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV) as well as financial hardship compared to men. Research has shown that experiencing IPV and financial strain are often intertwined, and depression has been identified as a possible mediator. However, such links among female IPV survivors remain unclear, as they tend to face multiple stressors simultaneously. Previous IPV studies mainly emphasize physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, and emerging attention has been given to economic abuse, an often invisible form of IPV. Guided by the stress process model, this study aimed to understand the impact of different forms of abuse on financial strain among female IPV survivors with a focus on economic abuse. Furthermore, this study also examines the potential pathway of psychological distress between IPV and financial strain.


Data was collected from a sample of 398 female IPV survivors from seven domestic violence agencies across three U.S. states. More than half of participants (62%) were Latina or Hispanic. The majority (90%) of participants had children. Nearly half were employed (46%) and hold college degree and above (43%). One-third reported annual household income less than $10,000. Regression models were conducted in SPSS 27.0 to assess the association between different forms of IPV, psychological distress, sociodemographic variables and financial strain. Significant predictors were then included in simple and parallel mediation models using PROCESS v3.4 to estimate indirect effects and bootstrapped confidence intervals.


Bivariate regression results indicated that the only type of IPV not associated with financial strain was physical abuse, which was then excluded. Multivariate regression results showed that economic abuse was the only form of IPV that was statistically significant related to increased financial strain (p< .05) and having children (p<.05). The full model explained 17.5% of the variance in financial strain (Adjusted R2), and only economic abuse, anxiety and depression remained significant predictors (p<.05). All mediation models were adjusted for demographic covariates including age, ethnicity, education, employment, and annual household income. Simple mediation models showed that anxiety (Bootstrap 95% CI 0.16, 0.32) and depression (Bootstrap 95% CI 0.17, 0.33) served as mediators in the relationship between economic abuse and financial strain. Parallel mediation model showed that the sequence of mediators was anxiety and then depression at a moderate direct effect size (0.14, p<0.001).

Conclusions and Implications

The study examined the link between economic abuse and financial strain among IPV survivors, and further demonstrated the mediating role of psychological distress through anxiety and then depression. Advocates need to assess survivors’ risk of economic abuse and address their financial strain to support survivors in building safety and independence. Interventions targeting psychological distress may decrease the effects of economic abuse on women’s financial strain. Policy should be amended to better address economic abuse and allocate resources to economic safety plans. Future research is needed to assess effective interventions to enhance mental health and financial well-being among IPV survivors.