March 30, 2007

Did legalizing abortion cut crime?

Non-economist social scientists are beginning to weigh in on Steven D. Levitt's most famous Freakonomics theory. Here's a paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (2006, Aug):


Fertility and the Abortion-Crime Debate
Hangartner, D. , Sykes, B. L. and Hathaway, E. A.

Abstract: Recently some scholars have asserted that abortion legalization during the 1970s resulted in lower crime 15-20 years later. While economists have both substantiated and challenged these findings, sociologists and demographers have been mute on the topic. In this paper, we show that the supposed link between abortion and crime is actually the result of omitted variables bias and difficulties in distinguishing between age-period-cohort effects. We correct these problems and use quasi-experimental methods to retest the causal argument for homicide, property, and violent crime. Using a unique data set compiled from multiple sources, we find that abortion legalization did not have any measurable effect on crime 15-20 years later once appropriate controls are included. Our findings indicate that any drop in crime is the result of a mixture of unmeasured period and cohort effects and not abortion.



My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Allow me to predict the response from Dubner/Levitt:

"We already sold millions of books and have made millions of dollars, so really, so what? You're right, we're wrong. We'll just sit back on our mountains of cash and appreciate that fact. More caviar!"

Ernest said...

Has anyone conducted a study to find out what proportion of non-public abortion providers in the USA are Jews or Jew-ish?

Anonymous said...

Nice job Godwinning the thread on the second post, Ernest. Does EVERYTHING on isteve.com have to be about The Jews?

(but if anybody has an answer to his question, I'd also be interested to know it.)

Half Sigma said...

I don't understand why you're so obsessed with this issue. Everyone knows that Levitt and Dubner just but that in the book so they could sell more books, and it worked great, they sold a lot of books.

Chris said...

Did legalizing abortion cut crime?

Depends.

By decreasing the number of illegal abortions, it cut crime.

But, if one consider abortion a moral crime, it had the opposite effect.

Floccina said...

When I read about them, Levit’s conclusions struck me as odd since when my wife was guardian ad litem (http://www.guardianadlitem.org/) the reading material from the state of Florida made a logical case that abortion had increased the percent chances that a child would be from a dysfunctional family. They made the case that abusers often want the children to fulfill their lives and that this leaning on the child is part of the problem. More responsible people might have abortions believing themselves incapable of properly raising a child in their current circumstances.

It also reminded me that one of my sociology professors in college one stated that certain people in the 1970’s where showing what he called excessive responsibility by forgoing children due to the common fear at that time of over population leading to environmental collapse. Presumably these very responsible people would make good parents.

BTW I am glad the over population leading to environmental collapse myth has collapsed, although the global warming people are trying hard to bring it back.

joshrandall said...

No surprise here. Steve Sailer beat Levitt like he was a red-headed step-child! I have never looked at the theory the same way after reading the iSteve blogs!

Anonymous said...

I believe he is passionate about it because he realizes, to many (most?) people, their logic leads them to that conclusion. I love, and believe we need more people doing what Steve, and even Michael Crichton, do: taking apart popular scientific theories that make sense to people who are in error of looking at the world way too simplistically.
He is doing an enormous service, especially as it has to do with the way we look at the most innocent among us, and I for one encourage him to do it more.

tommy said...

Did legalizing abortion cut crime?

At this point, I think we can safely say NO!

Robin said...

Directly, I think we can safely say YES! It deprived of existence, persons who would have gone on to commit crimes, and indeed, people who would have become victims of crime. By the same measure, it cut the numbers who would have attended university, got married, had abortions and, eventually, died.

Indirectly, as part of the liberal social agenda, it may well have contributed to the weakening of societal bonds which, in turn, fed the general societal propensity towards law-breaking.

Jez said...

What we can safely say NO! to is the thesis that it was the main contributory factor to the fall of crime rates in America in the 1990s.

Ron Guhname said...

FINALLY, my sociological brothers do some decent research!

Anonymous said...

How is it possible that abortion could have not cut crime? Only if every single one of the aborted fetuses would have grown up to be law abiding citizens could that be true. That defies credibility.

c23

rast said...

anon 3/30/2007 5:54 PM, we generally measure crime as a percentage of population, not as a total. So if abortion was eliminating relatively more future criminals than future law-abiding-citizens, it would be reducing crime. (ignore for a moment the deletrious effect the culture of abortion has on societal morals, which probably increases crime)

Of course, as Steve pointed out a while back, legalized abortion only reduced the overall birth rate a few percent, because it coincided with (read: almost certainly *caused*) a matching increase in conceptions.

albatross said...

The really fascinating question here involves evolution and abortion. There must be some genes that make you more or less likely to have an abortion. Perhaps they also have an effect on your choice of whether to use birth control. In 1940, those genes had almost no effect on fitness (if they decreased fitness by much, they should have been selected out of the population over time). Sometime between 1960 and 1973, those genes started having a huge impact on fitness.

Those genes are now being selected out of the population. If those genes are correlated with intelligence, or impulse control, or whatever, then we'll see big effects in all kinds of other areas. One obvious place to look for this is in religious observance. Some studies suggest a heritable component to probability of being religious. Abortion may very well be selecting for a tendency to be religious.

A really interesting place to look for this effect would be in analyzing IQ scores and personality test scores for adoptees now vs. 40 years ago, on the theory that many kids who would have been put up for adoption are now aborted instead.

Kenn Kerns said...

I'm an adoptee who is rabidly pro-abortion on the grounds that adoption is not a substitute for abortion at all and that sdoptees are often far less happy and well-adjusted than they would have been with their biological parents. My parents and I get along peaceably (if only just) now, but childhood was a war. My IQ is higher than either of theirs, by almost 20 points, but worse, it's exceptional where theirs is least strong and vice versa. Our basic views of the world could not have been more different.

I had a miserable childhood and early adulthood, have yet to really succeed at anything (but am making slow progress). I did not lose my virginity until I was 34 and have never had a serious relationship with a woman. And conversely, I was the cause of their marriage breaking up and seriously exacerbated my father's drinking and philandering, had my father arrested by the BATF for an illegal silencer when I was in high school because he belted me for poor grades (he only escaped a ten year jail sentence when my great-uncle, who had terminal cancer,(perjuriously) signed an affadavit he'd done it without Dad's knowledge and took the rap) and other miserable acts. We made each other's life a living hell for two decades and all of us will go to our graves for the worse.

My siblings, also adopted, are of average or slightly below average intelligence but never caused any trouble and are living happy lives.

I have to live with the fact that my adoptive family and I are literally a curse on each other, and my parents told me many times they wish our paths had never crossed.

I met my birth mother four years ago. She admitted that putting me up for adoption pained her every day of her life. She had married and had children afterward and siad she was a not very good mother, she did it not out of a desire for children but to dull the angst of having farmed me out and that she was not close to her children. She is a registered nurse and had worked in abortion facilities and said that in her view, women with incapable-to-handle pregnancies who have them terminated are the truly "pro-life"- they are acting to preserve their own lives. Although abortion is not a perfect solution, most of them are far better overall than the alternatives. Every child should be a wanted, compatible child. Although adoption works out well sometimes, the dark side should be firmly kept in mind as well.

Dave said...

"A really interesting place to look for this effect would be in analyzing IQ scores and personality test scores for adoptees now vs. 40 years ago, on the theory that many kids who would have been put up for adoption are now aborted instead."

I'm going to guess that abortion has had a negative effect on IQ over that time. Ask any nurse who works in a ghetto hospital -- the stupidest women are the ones who don't even realize they are pregnant until they are in their third trimester, when it's too late for them to get an abortion on demand.

Cyrus said...

There must be some genes that make you more or less likely to have an abortion.

Must there? This is the type of genetic reductionism that makes me sympathise with our old friend Jupiter.

Cedric Morrison said...

Considering that IQ has a big genetic component and that broad personality traits have a genetic component, it would be astonishing if the likelihood to have an abortion weren't influenced by genetics.

Anonymous said...

In many cases,abortion does not affect the number of children a particular woman has,only the timing of when she has them. Especially for minorities who are more prone to live outside the 'marital model',(get reasonably mature,get hitched,pump out babie(s).)Many women get pregnant by men they do not want to have as their 'baby daddy'.They may abort a child now and have one/more later.Its hard to se how that would affect the crime rate,unless the more thuggish guys are getting their babies aborted more,which seems doubtful!

Hansie said...

Kenn Kerns, if you wish you'd never been born, have you considered suicide?

Tyler said...

Considering that IQ has a big genetic component and that broad personality traits have a genetic component, it would be astonishing if the likelihood to have an abortion weren't influenced by genetics.

No doubt, genetics influence every aspect of human existence, but, then, so do the weather and what we eat and drink. What I'm disputing is that they control it.

But if you think the complexity of human life can be boiled down to a mere 25-30,000 protein-coding genes, good luck to you.

Cedric Morrison said...

But if you think the complexity of human life can be boiled down to a mere 25-30,000 protein-coding genes, good luck to you.

That is something of a straw-man argument in that I know of no one who is saying such a thing.

However, if genes do influence the tendency to abort, and people who abort reproduce less often than those who do not, the tendency not to abort will be selected for.

Hugh said...

That is something of a straw-man argument in that I know of no one who is saying such a thing.

It's meant to be a strawman argument, because I want to provoke you into explaining, in your own terms, the hypothesis that genes may effect the propensity to abort. Put some flesh on the bones.

Kenn Kerns said...

" Hansie said...

Kenn Kerns, if you wish you'd never been born, have you considered suicide? "

Some may dismiss this as baldly prickish, but the fact is, yes, I did. When I was in my teens I gave serious thought to suicide-but only after doing away with at least my father and more often the whole family. I didn't do that, of couse, but today it makes me think that for every case of someone who turns "family annihilator" many more, very many more, think about it. I have never understood people who bleat, in Dr. Whora fashion, "How _could_ they?" when talking of these incidents but rather that it's a testament to the socialization of humans on a genetic level that it is so relatively rare. Given the opportunity it's certainly less rare in other cultures-after all, what is it besides another form of "honor killing"?

Today I realize I was somewhat fortunate in that nothing like that happened, but also, my adoptive family's often traumatic and seemingly brutal reactions to my behavior were simply the only reaction they could have had to things which made no sense to them even if it made perfect sense to me. We just did not think alike. To me, when the TV or the car broke it was an opportunity to take it apart and see what made it work: to them it was a repair bill.

I don't wish I had never ben born but that I had been born into different circumstances. Had another family adopted me, one with more similar biological inclinations, I would have had a far smoother life, certainly. Or had I been born to a stable married couple, my own biological parents. But: I was born to the people who I was, a father who came and went and a mother who could not handle a baby. I wouldn't be me if it had been any different, and so, I guess I can say I wouldn't change it now but would never want anyone else to grow up like that.

tommy said...

Tyler,

No doubt, genetics influence every aspect of human existence, but, then, so do the weather and what we eat and drink. What I'm disputing is that they control it.

I don't think weather has a significant effect on IQ. Just a hunch. ;-)

Kenn Kerns,

I'm sorry you've had a rough life. Still, wouldn't you prefer to be alive? Many of us, including those of us born to biological parents, wish our parents(or at least their circumstances) were different. Going through very difficult and emotional times during the teenage years is nothing unusual. Even biological parents are quite often different from their children.

I don't know what your specific circumstances are, but it sounds to me like maybe your problem is just that you've had one or more bad or disinterested parents rather than parents of different biological inclinations.

TabooTruth said...

Hugh,

Genes matter. Just look at the mountain of twin adoption studies. Don't give me that "human dignity," crap. We are biological machines, just like that cockroach I stepped on today. If dog breeders can mold a dog's personality before is is born by parental selection, then why can't our genes give us behavioral tendencies?


Ken,

I appreciate the fact that you are willing to share such deep issues online to us strangers. I can hope that with your life's experience, you can help our society prevent situations that you went through.


NORPLANT. I still don't understand why mandatory sterilization isn't seriously considered. Cut the tubes, and once a family is capable of supporting a child, they get the right of reproduction back and the system fixed. That is unquestionably the most fair system. Yet, the leftists and the religious nuts will object. The moderates will be stuck with the bill of unwanted children.

Reproduction is not a right - it is earned.

josh said...

We are being deluged with immigrants from all over the 3rd world,or I should say we're being "attacked",including thoudands of AFRICANS every year;we need a whole lot more than "norplant"!!Stop immigration! Immigration=Death!

Anonymous said...

Kenn Kerns,

Where can I contact you?

albatross said...

cyrus and Tyler:

This is a fair question. First, I don't know that genes have anything to do with the decision to abort. However, there's good evidence that political attitudes, religion, IQ, and personality (as rated by personality tests) are partly genetic. This leads pretty naturally to the idea that the decision to have an abortion might be partly a function of IQ, personality, political attitudes, and religious beliefs.

Here's my model. All the behavior-influencing genes out there have led, under pre-birth-control/pre-abortion conditions, to enough copies of themselves being produced that they haven't disappeared from the genepool. The range of reproductive behaviors influenced by these genes was limited, though, because you couldn't have sex with a member of the opposite sex without risking pregnancy in most cases. Most people have a pretty strong drive for sex in their reproductive years.

Enter effective birth control and abortion. If there are genes which influence the decision to use birth control and abortion in a way that changes the fertility of those carrying them, those genes now have a different fitness, because the environment changed. It's like a population of ants when everyone starts putting out a certain kind of ant poison in their houses--over time, genes that lead ants to eat that posion get selected right out of the population of ants, and the poison stops working.

Right now, birth control and abortion seem likely to be the things that most strongly determine the fitness of most people in first-world countries. We mostly don't have massive die offs from plagues or famine, and the welfare state ensures that even someone who doesn't bother providing for his kids will likely still have kids survive to adulthood.

Now, I'll admit that I don't know that there are any genes that affect the decision to use birth control or abortion at all. But given what is known, it seems plausible that there would be such genes. I wonder how hard it would be to get information on this, say from twin studies or some such thing.