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Testing economic hypotheses with state-level data: a comment on Donohue and Levitt (2001)

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  • Christopher L. Foote
  • Christopher F. Goetz

Abstract

State-level data are often used in the empirical research of both macroeconomists and microeconomists. Using data that follows states over time allows economists to hold constant a host of potentially confounding factors that might contaminate an assignment of cause and effect. A good example is a fascinating paper by Donohue and Levitt (2001, henceforth DL), which purports to show that hypothetical individuals resulting from aborted fetuses, had they been born and developed into youths, would have been more likely to commit crimes than youths resulting from fetuses carried to term. We revisit that paper, showing that the actual implementation of DL’s statistical test in their paper differed from what was described. (Specifically, controls for state-year effects were left out of their regression model.) We show that when DL’s key test is run as described and augmented with state-level population data, evidence for higher per capita criminal propensities among the youths who would have developed, had they not been aborted as fetuses, vanishes. Two lessons for empirical researchers are, first, that controls may impact results in ways that are hard to predict, and second, that these controls are probably not powerful enough to compensate for the omission of a key variable in the regression model. (Data and programs to support this comment are available on the web site of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.)

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedbwp:05-15
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Ted Joyce, 2004. "Did Legalized Abortion Lower Crime?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(1).
    2. John J. Donohue III & Steven D. Levitt, 2001. "The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(2), pages 379-420.
    3. Robert Shimer, 2001. "The Impact of Young Workers on the Aggregate Labor Market," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(3), pages 969-1007.
    4. Ted Joyce, 2001. "Did Legalized Abortion Lower Crime?," NBER Working Papers 8319, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Leo H. Kahane & David Paton & Rob Simmons, 2008. "The Abortion-Crime Link: Evidence from England and Wales," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 75(297), pages 1-21, February.
    2. Wanchuan Lin & Juan Pantano, 2015. "The unintended: negative outcomes over the life cycle," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 28(2), pages 479-508, April.
    3. Ted Joyce, 2010. "Abortion and Crime: A Review," Chapters,in: Handbook on the Economics of Crime, chapter 18 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    4. Naci Mocan & Kaj Gittings, 2010. "The Impact of Incentives on Human Behavior: Can We Make it Disappear? The Case of the Death Penalty," NBER Chapters,in: The Economics of Crime: Lessons for and from Latin America, pages 379-418 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Mølland, Eirin, 2016. "Benefits from delay? The effect of abortion availability on young women and their children," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 6-28.
    6. Melanie Guldi, 2008. "Fertility effects of abortion and birth control pill access for minors," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 45(4), pages 817-827, November.
    7. Gary Shoesmith, 2010. "Four factors that explain both the rise and fall of US crime, 1970-2003," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 42(23), pages 2957-2973.
    8. Christopher Carpenter, 2007. "Heavy Alcohol Use and Crime: Evidence from Underage Drunk-Driving Laws," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 50, pages 539-557.
    9. Seth G. Sanders, 2010. "Crime and the Family: Lessons from Teenage Childbearing," NBER Chapters,in: Controlling Crime: Strategies and Tradeoffs, pages 573-598 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Theodore J. Joyce, 2009. "Abortion and Crime: A Review," NBER Working Papers 15098, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Elizabeth Oltmans Ananat & Jonathan Gruber & Phillip B. Levine & Douglas Staiger, 2009. "Abortion and Selection," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(1), pages 124-136, February.
    12. Theodore J. Joyce, 2006. "Further Tests of Abortion and Crime: A Response to Donohue and Levitt (2001,2004, 2006)," NBER Working Papers 12607, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Todd D. Kendall & Robert Tamura, 2010. "Unmarried Fertility, Crime, and Social Stigma," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 53(1), pages 185-221, February.
    14. Elizabeth Oltmans Ananat & Daniel M. Hungerman, 2007. "The Power of the Pill for the Next Generation," NBER Working Papers 13402, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Todd Kendall, 2011. "The Relationship Between Internet Access and Divorce Rate," Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Springer, vol. 32(3), pages 449-460, September.

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    Keywords

    Research ; Economics ; Crime;

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