Economist Finds Abortion Doesn’t Decrease Crime in New Research

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 28, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Economist Finds Abortion Doesn’t Decrease Crime in New Research Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 28, 2005

Boston, MA ( — In an attempt to provide justification for legalized abortion, an economist and author published research four years ago claiming legal abortions have resulted in a drop in the crime rate. But a Boston economist says that’s not the case and challenges the research data they used.

Steven Levitt, a University of Chicago economist, and New York Times writer Stephen Dubner first made the abortion-crime allegations in 2001 in a report published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

They based their report on earlier studies conducted by Levitt and Yale Law School Prof. John Donohue.

But Christopher Foote, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and Christopher Goetz, a research assistant there, say the data the study relies on is faulty.

According to a Wall St. Journal news report, Foote says there was a "missing formula” in Levitt’s original research that allowed him to ignore certain factors that may have contributed to the lowering of crime rates during the 1980s and 1990s.

Foote also argues that Levitt counted the total number of arrests made when he should have used per-capita figures. After Foote adjusted for both factors, the abortion effect simply disappeared, the Journal reported.

"There are no statistical grounds for believing that the hypothetical youths who were aborted as fetuses would have been more likely to commit crimes had they reached maturity than the actual youths who developed from fetuses and carried to term," the Foote and Goetz say in their report.

The he acknowledges the error, Levitt told the Journal that their report doesn’t topple his theory that legal abortion reduces crime and he claims research in other countries, such as Australia and Canada, verify his theory.

"Does this change my mind on the issue? Absolutely not," Levitt told the Journal.

Edward Glaeser, a Harvard professor who helped in Levitt’s original submission to the Quarterly Journal of Economics, told the Journal that the new report shouldn’t be dismissed because the pair of researchers did a thorough job analyzing the data.

"These guys [Foote and his research assistant] have put the [data] through the wringer," Glaeser said. "There is no question that the results get smaller and weaker," though he still thinks abortion contributes to a reduction in crime.

The authors say their work does not necessarily represent the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.