Surgeon General Generalized Unrepresentative Domestic-Violence Study

face of a prisoner

An article entitled “From the Surgeon General, US Public Health Service,” addressed domestic violence. It was published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association in 1992. That article equated domestic violence with domestic violence against women. The article included one scholarly citation:

One study found violence to be the second leading cause of injuries to women, and the leading cause of injuries to women ages 15 through 44 years (Am J Epidemiol. 1991;134:59-68).^

Among other misleading aspects of the Surgeon General’s statement, the cited study did not study a population representative of women in the U.S. The cited study included only poor, urban, black women in western Philadelphia in 1987-88. Seeking to understand how false claims about domestic violence against women had proliferated, a journalist in 1994 interviewed the primary author of the cited study. The journalist reported:

the primary author of that Philadelphia study says her findings cannot be applied to the rest of the country.

“I would never generalize that to the total population of women in the United States,” said Dr. Jean Ann Grisso, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.^

Generalizing from poor, urban, black women in western Philadelphia to all of the U.S. isn’t good statistical practice. Nationally representative surveys of injuries prompting visits to hospital emergency departments indicate that domestic violence against women accounts for about 3% of such injury visits among women. Those surveys also show that domestic violence is far from the leading cause of injuries to women.

Leave a comment (will be included in public domain license)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *