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Did Legalized Abortion Lower Crime?

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  • Ted Joyce

Abstract

This paper examines the relationship between the legalization of abortion and subsequent decreases in crime. In a current study, researchers estimate that the legalization of abortion explains over half of the recent decline in national crime rates. The association is identified by correlating changes in crime with changes in the abortion ratio weighted by the proportion of the criminal population exposed to legalized abortion. In this paper, I use an alternative identification strategy. I analyze changes in homicide and arrest rates among teens and young adults born before and after 1970 in states that legalized abortion prior to Roe v. Wade. I compare these changes with variation in homicide and arrest rates among cohorts from the same period but who were unexposed to legalized abortion. I find little evidence to support the claim that legalized abortion caused the reduction in crime. I conclude that the association between abortion and crime is not causal, but most likely the result of confounding from unmeasured period effects such as changes in crack cocaine use and its spillover effects.

Suggested Citation

  • Ted Joyce, 2001. "Did Legalized Abortion Lower Crime?," NBER Working Papers 8319, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8319
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. repec:aph:ajpbhl:1990:80:3:273-278_5 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Gruber, Jonathan, 1994. "The Incidence of Mandated Maternity Benefits," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 622-641, June.
    4. Theodore Joyce & Michael Grossman, 1990. "Pregnancy wantedness and the early initiation of prenatal care," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 27(1), pages 1-17, February.
    5. George A. Akerlof & Janet L. Yellen & Michael L. Katz, 1996. "An Analysis of Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing in the United States," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 111(2), pages 277-317.
    6. John R. Lott, Jr. & John Whitley, 2001. "Abortion and Crime: Unwanted Children and Out-of-Wedlock Births," School of Economics Working Papers 2001-05, University of Adelaide, School of Economics.
    7. Thomas J. Kane & Douglas Staiger, 1996. "Teen Motherhood and Abortion Access," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 111(2), pages 467-506.
    8. Theodore Joyce & Robert Kaestner & Sanders Korenman, 2000. "The effect of pregnancy intention on child development," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 37(1), pages 83-94, February.
    9. Arline T. Geronimus & Sanders Korenman, 1992. "The Socioeconomic Consequences of Teen Childbearing Reconsidered," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(4), pages 1187-1214.
    10. Jeff Grogger & Michael Willis, 2000. "The Emergence Of Crack Cocaine And The Rise In Urban Crime Rates," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 82(4), pages 519-529, November.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Ted Joyce, 2004. "Did Legalized Abortion Lower Crime?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(1).
    2. Julio Cáceres-Delpiano & Eugenio Giolito, 2012. "The Impact of Unilateral Divorce on Crime," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 30(1), pages 215-248.
    3. James M. Poterba, 2005. "Steven D. Levitt: 2003 John Bates Clark Medalist," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(3), pages 181-198, Summer.
    4. Ted Joyce, 2004. "Further Tests of Abortion and Crime," NBER Working Papers 10564, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. John M. Nunley & Richard Alan Seals & Joachim Zietz, 2010. "Demographic Change, Macroeconomic Conditions, and the Murder Rate: The Case of the United States, 1934 to 2006," Auburn Economics Working Paper Series auwp2010-04, Department of Economics, Auburn University.
    6. Whitaker, Stephan, 2011. "The impact of legalized abortion on high school graduation through selection and composition," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 228-246, April.
    7. Charles, Kerwin Kofi & Stephens, Melvin, Jr, 2006. "Abortion Legalization and Adolescent Substance Use," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 49(2), pages 481-505, October.
    8. 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.
    9. Theodore J. Joyce, 2009. "Abortion and Crime: A Review," NBER Working Papers 15098, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Theodore J. Joyce & Ruoding Tan & Yuxiu Zhang, 2012. "Back to the Future? Abortion Before & After Roe," NBER Working Papers 18338, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Travaglini, Guido, 2010. "Supervised Principal Components and Factor Instrumental Variables. An Application to Violent CrimeTrends in the US, 1982-2005," MPRA Paper 22077, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    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. Roland G. Fryer & Paul S. Heaton & Steven D. Levitt & Kevin M. Murphy, 2005. "Measuring the Impact of Crack Cocaine," NBER Working Papers 11318, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Durlauf, Steven N. & Navarro, Salvador & Rivers, David A., 2010. "Understanding aggregate crime regressions," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 158(2), pages 306-317, October.
    15. Gabriel Chequer Hartung & Samuel Pessoa, 2007. "Fatores Demográficos Como Determinantes Da Criminalidade," Anais do XXXV Encontro Nacional de Economia [Proceedings of the 35th Brazilian Economics Meeting] 112, ANPEC - Associação Nacional dos Centros de Pósgraduação em Economia [Brazilian Association of Graduate Programs in Economics].
    16. 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.
    17. Philip J. Cook & John H. Laub, 2001. "After the Epidemic: Recent Trends in Youth Violence in the United States," NBER Working Papers 8571, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • K4 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior

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