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Roe v. Wade and American Fertility

  • Phillip B. Levine
  • Douglas Staiger
  • Thomas J. Kane
  • David J. Zimmerman

We consider the effect of abortion legalization on births in the United States. A simple theoretical model demonstrates that the impact of abortion legalization on the birth rate is ambiguous, because both pregnancy and abortion decisions could be affected. We use variation in the timing of legalization across states in the early 1970's to estimate the effect of abortion on birth rates. Our findings indicate that states legalizing abortion experienced a 5% decline in births relative to other states. The decline among teens, women over 35, and nonwhite women was even greater: 13%, 8%, and 12% respectively. Out-of-wedlock births declined by twice as much as births in wedlock. If legalization in some states affected birth rates in neighboring states (through travel to obtain an abortion), comparing births between states will underestimate the actual reduction. Using more distant comparison states increases the estimated impact of abortion legalization on birth rates to about 8%. Applying this estimate to the current level of births, a complete recriminalization of abortion would result in 320,000 additional births per year.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w5615.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 5615.

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Date of creation: Jun 1996
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 89, no. 2 (1999): 199-203.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5615
Note: HC
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
Phone: 617-868-3900
Web page: http://www.nber.org
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  1. Lundberg, S. & Plotnick, R.D., 1994. "Adolescent Premarital Childbearing: Do Economic Incentives Matters?," Discussion Papers in Economics at the University of Washington 94-4, Department of Economics at the University of Washington.
  2. Levine, Phillip B. & Trainor, Amy B. & Zimmerman, David J., 1996. "The effect of Medicaid abortion funding restrictions on abortions, pregnancies and births," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(5), pages 555-578, October.
  3. Janet Currie & Lucia Nixon & Nancy Cole, 1993. "Restrictions on Medicaid Funding of Abortion: Effects on Pregnancy Resolutions and Birth Weight," NBER Working Papers 4432, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Kane, Thomas J & Staiger, Douglas, 1996. "Teen Motherhood and Abortion Access," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 111(2), pages 467-506, May.
  5. Matthews, S. & Ribar, D. & Wilhelm, M., 1995. "The Effects of Economic Conditions and Access to Reproductive Health Services on State Abortion and Birth Rates," Papers 4-95-15, Pennsylvania State - Department of Economics.
  6. Rebecca M. Blank & Christine C. George & Rebecca A. London, 1994. "State Abortion Rates: The Impact of Policies, Providers, Politics, Demographics, and Economic Environment," NBER Working Papers 4853, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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