The effects of academic and interpersonal stress on dating violence among college students: A test of classical strain theory

Brandon Mason, Martha Smithey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


This study examines Merton's Classical Strain Theory (1938) as a causative factor in intimate partner violence among college students. We theorize that college students experience general life strain and cumulative strain as they pursue the goal of a college degree. We test this strain on the likelihood of using intimate partner violence. Strain due to unrealistic expectations of intimate partnership and economic strain are also examined. The analysis examines the following causative factors representing strain: 1) the College Undergraduate Stress Scale (Renner & Mackin, 1998); 2) cumulative academic strain measured by college classification; 3) cumulative intimate partner strain measured as the length of time in the relationship; 4) academic strain measured by number of hours studied weekly, and 5) economic strain measured by number of hours worked weekly. Additionally, we examine the extent to which gender and race/ethnicity differentially affect intimate partner in the context of these measures of strain. The Conflict Tactics Scales II (Straus et al,1996) are used to measure dating violence and include indicators for sexual coercion, physical aggression, injury, and psychological aggression. Data were collected from 142 students in lower-division classes from Texas Tech University. Results show that general strain and cumulative intimate partner strain increase the use of dating violence among college students. The longer dating partners are in a relationship, the higher the chances of psychological aggression, physical assault, and sexual coercion. Converse to our expectations, time spent working reduces psychological aggression due to reducing time spent together rather than reflecting economic strain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)974-986
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 2012


  • anything related to sexual assault
  • criminology
  • dating violence
  • domestic violence
  • sexual assault


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