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Abortion and Crime: A Review

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  • Theodore J. Joyce

Abstract

Ten years have passed since John Donohue and Steven Levitt initially proposed that legalized abortion played a major role in the dramatic decline in crime during the 1990s. Criminologists largely dismiss the association because simple plots of age-specific crime rates are inconsistent with a large cohort affect following the legalization of abortion. Economists, on the other hand, have corrected mistakes in the original analyses, added new data, offered alternative tests and tried to replicate the association in other countries. Donohue and Levitt have responded to each challenge with more data and additional regressions. Making sense of the dueling econometrics has proven difficult for even the most seasoned empiricists. In this paper I review the evidence. I argue that the most straightforward test given available data involves age-specific arrest and homicide rates regressed on lagged abortion rates in the 1970s or indicators of abortion legalization in 1970 and 1973. Such models provide little support for the Donohue and Levitt hypothesis in either the US or the United Kingdom.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15098.

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Date of creation: Jun 2009
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Publication status: published as Ted Joyce, 2009. "A Simple Test of Abortion and Crime," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(1), pages 112-123, 08.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15098

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  1. Joshua D. Angrist & William N. Evans, 1996. "Schooling and Labor Market Consequences of the 1970 State Abortion Reforms," NBER Working Papers 5406, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. V. Joseph Hotz & Susan Williams McElroy & Seth G. Sanders, 1999. "Teenage Childbearing and Its Life Cycle Consequences: Exploiting a Natural Experiment," JCPR Working Papers 157, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
  3. Reyes Jessica Wolpaw, 2007. "Environmental Policy as Social Policy? The Impact of Childhood Lead Exposure on Crime," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 7(1), pages 1-43, October.
  4. John R. Lott & John Whitley, 2007. "Abortion And Crime: Unwanted Children And Out-Of-Wedlock Births," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 45(2), pages 304-324, 04.
  5. Theodore J. Joyce & Naci H. Mocan, 1989. "The Impact of a Ban on Legalized Abortion on Adolescent Childbearing in New York City," NBER Working Papers 3002, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. John J. Donohue III & Steven D. Levitt, 2003. "Further Evidence that Legalized Abortion Lowered Crime: A Reply to Joyce," NBER Working Papers 9532, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Kerwin Kofi Charles & Melvin Stephens Jr., 2002. "Abortion Legalization and Adolescent Substance Use," NBER Working Papers 9193, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. repec:eme:rlepps:v:18:y:1999:i:1999:p:75-113 is not listed on IDEAS
  9. John DiNardo, 2007. "Interesting Questions in Freakonomics," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 45(4), pages 973-1000, December.
  10. John DiNardo, 2006. "Freakonomics: Scholarship in the Service of Storytelling," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 8(3), pages 615-626.
  11. Anindya Sen, 2002. "Does Increased Abortion Lead to Reduced Crime? Evaluating the Relationship between Crime, Abortion, and Fertility," Working Papers 02004, University of Waterloo, Department of Economics, revised Jan 2002.
  12. Leo H. Kahane & David Paton & Rob Simmons, 2005. "The Abortion-Crime Link: Evidence from England and Wales," Occasional Papers 16, Industrial Economics Division.
  13. Ted Joyce, 2004. "Further Tests of Abortion and Crime," NBER Working Papers 10564, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Ted Joyce, 2009. "A Simple Test of Abortion and Crime," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(1), pages 112-123, February.
  15. Sen Anindya, 2007. "Does Increased Abortion Lead to Lower Crime? Evaluating the Relationship between Crime, Abortion, and Fertility," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 7(1), pages 1-38, September.
  16. Christopher L. Foote & Christopher F. Goetz, 2005. "Testing economic hypotheses with state-level data: a comment on Donohue and Levitt (2001)," Working Papers 05-15, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  17. John J. Donohue & Steven D. Levitt, 2001. "The Impact Of Legalized Abortion On Crime," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(2), pages 379-420, May.
  18. Angela K. Dills & Jeffrey A. Miron & Garrett Summers, 2010. "What Do Economists Know about Crime?," NBER Chapters, in: The Economics of Crime: Lessons for and from Latin America, pages 269-302 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. Ted Joyce, 2001. "Did Legalized Abortion Lower Crime?," NBER Working Papers 8319, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Steven D. Levitt, 2004. "Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990s: Four Factors that Explain the Decline and Six that Do Not," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(1), pages 163-190, Winter.
  21. Christopher L. Foote & Christopher F. Goetz, 2008. "The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime: Comment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 123(1), pages 407-423, 02.
  22. Theodore Joyce & Robert Kaestner & Sanders Korenman, 2000. "The effect of pregnancy intention on child development," Demography, Springer, vol. 37(1), pages 83-94, February.
  23. Elizabeth Oltmans Ananat & Jonathan Gruber & Phillip B. Levine & Douglas Staiger, 2006. "Abortion and Selection," NBER Working Papers 12150, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  24. Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, 2007. "Environmental Policy as Social Policy? The Impact of Childhood Lead Exposure on Crime," NBER Working Papers 13097, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  25. Cristian Pop-Eleches, 2006. "The Impact of an Abortion Ban on Socioeconomic Outcomes of Children: Evidence from Romania," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 114(4), pages 744-773, August.
  26. John J. Donohue & Steven D. Levitt, 2008. "Measurement Error, Legalized Abortion, and the Decline in Crime: A Response to Foote and Goetz," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 123(1), pages 425-440, 02.
  27. Ted Joyce, 2004. "Did Legalized Abortion Lower Crime?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(1).
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Cited by:
  1. Philip J. Cook & Jens Ludwig, 2010. "Economical Crime Control," NBER Working Papers 16513, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Gebhard Kirchgässner, 2011. "Econometric Estimates of Deterrence of the Death Penalty: Facts or Ideology?," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 64(3), pages 448-478, 08.

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