Spouse and child abuse are characteristics of family life that received very little attention in the United States before 1970. Leading researchers in this area have concluded that family violence is more common in marriages in which the male is dominant and in societies that condone violence in general. Another predictor is the privacy of the conjugal family, which could predispose Western societies towards violence, though it is widespread throughout the world (Strauss 1977). In one study of ninety different societies, wife beating was found to occur at least occasionally in 84.5 percent of them (Levinson 1989).
Wife abuse is consistently mentioned as commonplace in traditional Hispanic families. In one study (Straus and Smith 1989), almost one-fourth of Latino couples experienced violence in their relationship—a rate over 50 percent higher than it was for Anglo couples. This may not be surprising when we realize that the characteristics of machismo are some of the same ones mentioned in studies of spouse abuse. One is alcohol. Varying estimates suggest that from 40 to 95 percent of all wife-beating situations are ones in which the husband has been drinking. Another is male dominance, or the man's right to force compliance to his wishes within his family. The last is low self-esteem, often related to financial problems. All of these characteristics that predict spouse abuse are aspects of being a macho male.