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Further Evidence that Legalized Abortion Lowered Crime: A Reply to Joyce

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  • John J. Donohue III
  • Steven D. Levitt

Abstract

Donohue and Levitt (2001) present a number of analyses that suggest a causal link between legalized abortion and reductions in crime almost two decades later when the cohorts exposed to legalized abortion reach their peak crime years. Joyce (2003) challenges that finding. In this paper, we demonstrate that Joyce's failure to uncover a negative relationship between abortion and crime is a direct consequence of his decision to focus exclusively on the six-year period 1985-90 without including adequate controls for the crack epidemic. We provide empirical evidence that crack hit the high-abortion early legalizing states harder and earlier. We then demonstrate that using precisely the same treatment and control groups as Joyce, but extending the data analysis to encompass the lifetime criminal experiences (as opposed to an arbitrary six-year window), the evidence strongly supports the hypothesis that legalized abortion reduces crime. We also show that our original results are robust to focusing on only the cohorts born immediately before or after Roe v. Wade. The data suggest that ease of access to abortion, rather than simply de jure legalization, is a critical determinant of the extent of the crime reduction.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9532
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Theodore J. Joyce, 1985. "The Impact of Induced Abortion on Birth Outcomes in the U.S," NBER Working Papers 1757, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Ted Joyce, 2004. "Did Legalized Abortion Lower Crime?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(1).
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. Theodore Joyce, 1987. "The impact of induced abortion on black and white birth outcomes in the United States," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 24(2), pages 229-244, May.
    6. John J. Donohue & Steven D. Levitt, 1999. "Legalized Abortion and Crime," JCPR Working Papers 104, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
    7. 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.
    8. 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.
    9. Jonathan Gruber & Phillip Levine & Douglas Staiger, 1999. "Abortion Legalization and Child Living Circumstances: Who is the "Marginal Child"?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(1), pages 263-291.
    10. 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.
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    JEL classification:

    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs

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