The Economic Dimensions of Interpersonal Violence

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Org: Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention, World Health Organization
Date: 2004

This report makes the case for investing in prevention by highlighting the enormous economic costs of the consequences of interpersonal violence, and reviews the limited but nonetheless striking evidence for the cost-effectiveness of prevention programs. The report approaches the problem of interpersonal violence from a public health economics perspective (i.e. societal costs).

Interpersonal violence is defined to include violence between family members and intimate partners and violence between acquaintances and strangers that is not intended to further the aims of any formally defined group or cause. Self-directed violence, war, state-sponsored violence and other collective violence are specifically excluded from these definitions.

This report reviews a number of peer reviewed articles and published and unpublished reports, focusing on these themes:

  • The economic effects of interpersonal violence in a variety of socioeconomic and cultural settings.
  • The economic effects of interventions intended to reduce interpersonal violence.
  • The effects of economic conditions and policies on interpersonal violence - with particular reference to poverty, structural adjustment, income equality and social investment.

The authors found that there were varied and broad categories and definitions of costs and interpretations of how costs were calculated in the various studies. For example, many studies focused on the overall societal costs of interpersonal violence, while others included only costs to the victims, without counting the social costs of prevention, law enforcement, incarceration and lost productivity.

The authors assert that, "within the context of calculating the economic consequences of violence, the clearest gap is the need for a standardized methodology." They also state that, "given the wide range of methodological differences and extensive gaps in the existing literature on the economics of interpersonal violence, there is a clear need for systematic future research into the costs of violence. Such research should follow rigorous methodological guidelines, be inclusive of both direct and indirect cost categories, and - perhaps most importantly - be comparable across countries and settings."

They conclude, "Public health economics provides important tools for documenting and quantifying the causes and consequences of violence. However, efforts to promote the prevention of violence in different settings require a multidisciplinary approach including economics, epidemiology, sociology, anthropology, the biomedical sciences and - ultimately - public policy. This report has shown that an economic approach can convincingly demonstrate the magnitude of the damage caused by interpersonal violence - an important first step towards a unified agenda to reduce the vast human toll caused by unnecessary violence between individuals around the world."

This report is available for download in Adobe Acrobat PDF format (400 KB, 70 pages).