Does Abortion REALLY Lead to Reductions in Violent Crime?
In 1973, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case Roe vs. Wade that a woman has a constitutional right to an abortion during the first six months of pregnancy. From MSN Encarta:
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The Roe decision aroused extreme reactions in the public. The decision was strongly endorsed by many women’s rights groups that had long sought to guarantee a woman’s right to choose an abortion. However, the decision was fiercely opposed by others, many of whom maintained that life begins at conception…Naturally, when economists Steve Levitt and John Donohue supposedly found evidence that a drop in the crime rate was linked to the decriminalization of abortion, the research was hotly debated by both economists and non-economists alike.
Since the Roe v. Wade decision, abortion has become one of the most divisive political issues in the United States…
Most of us by now are familiar with the hypothesis put forward in Freakonomics by Steve Levitt and Stephen Dubner (summarizing earlier research by Levitt et al.) that following the decision in Roe v. Wade, violent crime rates declined.Side note: Lott is suing Levitt for defamation for a passage in Freakonomics about Lott's research. For all the gory details click here.
Fewer of us know that there was a coding error in the original work that cast some doubt on the original results. Levitt redid the study and found even stronger results, but those are now being questioned. One among those who have questioned Levitt's most recent results is, guess who, John Lott. Here are excerpts from a recent news story about his results.Freakonomics, co-authored by Stephen Dubner and published last year, says legalized abortion led to a large drop in murder and other violent crime in the late 1980s and early '90s, and continues to reduce crime.My own priors have been revised -- they're pretty flat now.
The book suggests that if the aborted fetuses had instead been born, they would have become adults more likely to commit crimes because they were unwanted by their mothers.
... But Lott says the Levitt study did not fully consider the increase of children born out of wedlock. His theory is that with the option of abortion, women became more likely to have premarital sex, but then had their babies and raised them as single parents.
Children born out of wedlock have had smaller investments in "human capital" by their parents and are more likely to get into trouble when they grow older, Lott says.
... Before legalized abortion, more than 70 percent of children born out of wedlock ended up in families with a father, but the fraction fell to 44 percent in 1984, according to the paper.
In an interview, Lott acknowledged that legalization of abortion in the '70s did have a "slight impact" on reducing crime — but not when the effect of unwed mothers is included in the analysis. Levitt, on the other hand, estimated abortion will account for declines of 1 percent a year in crime over the next two decades.
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