IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

Legalized Abortion and Crime

Listed author(s):
  • John J. Donohue
  • Steven D. Levitt

Crime has fallen dramatically in the 1990s. While many explanations for this decline have been offered, each of them has difficulty explaining the timing, large magnitude, persistence, and widespread nature of the drop. In this paper we propose a new explanation for falling crime: the legalization of abortion roughly twenty years earlier. The empirical evidence we present is consistent with abortion playing an important role. First, the timing of the crime drop corresponds to the period in which the first cohorts affected by abortion are reaching the peak ages of criminal activity. Second, states that legalized abortion before the rest of the nation were the first to experience decreasing crime. Third, states with high abortion rates have seen a greater fall in crime since 1985. The estimated elasticity of crime with respect to abortion rates is roughly -.10. The abortion-related reduction in crime is predominantly attributable to a decrease in crime per capita among the young, rather than smaller cohort sizes. Declining crime rates could result from two mechanisms: selective abortion on the part of women most at risk to have children who would engage in criminal activity, and improved child rearing or environmental circumstances caused by better maternal, familial, or fetal circumstances. Extrapolating our estimates out of sample to a counterfactual in which there were no abortions, crime rates might be 10-20 percent higher than they currently are with abortion. If these estimates are correct, legalized abortion can explain about half of the recent fall in crime. All else equal, we predict that crime rates will continue to fall slowly for an additional 15-20 years as the full effects of legalized abortion are gradually felt.

To our knowledge, this item is not available for download. To find whether it is available, there are three options:
1. Check below under "Related research" whether another version of this item is available online.
2. Check on the provider's web page whether it is in fact available.
3. Perform a search for a similarly titled item that would be available.

Paper provided by Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research in its series JCPR Working Papers with number 104.

in new window

Date of creation: 01 Oct 1999
Handle: RePEc:wop:jopovw:104
Contact details of provider: Postal:
Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies, 1155 E. 60th Street Chicago, IL 60637

Phone: 773-702-0472
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

No references listed on IDEAS
You can help add them by filling out this form.

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:wop:jopovw:104. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Thomas Krichel)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.