Economists Challenge Theory That Legalized Abortion Reduces Crime

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 30, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Economists Challenge Theory That Legalized Abortion Reduces Crime Email this article
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by Paul Nowak Staff Writer
August 30, 2006

Chicago, IL ( — A new paper by two prominent economists will challenge a claim in the best-selling book Freakanomics that legalized abortion has reduced crime.

John R. Lott Jr. and John Whitley, affiliated with the University of Chicago, have written a paper challenging the pro-abortion claims made by Freakanomics author Steven D. Levitt. Lott and Whitley expect their paper to be published in October in the journal Economic Inquiry, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

In his book, Levitt argues that the ready availability of abortion since its legalization in 1973 resulted in fewer unwanted children and therefore less crime in later generations. He cited arrest records to claim that abortion would account for a 1% reduction in crime each year over the next two decades.

Lott and Whitley are challenging Levitt’s assumptions, pointing out that Levitt did not consider all the factors affecting the crime rate, including the increase of children born out of wedlock since the Roe v. Wade decision. According to their research, ready access to abortion has made women more likely to engage in premarital sex, and as a result more children are being born to single women.

They point out that 5 percent of white children were born out of wedlock from 1965 to 1969, compared to 16 percent in the 1980’s. Black children born out of wedlock increased from 35 percent to 62 percent in the same period.

These children of unwed mothers, statistically more at risk of becoming criminals, are responsible for the increase of murders by 700 cases in 1998 alone, according to Lott and Whitley. Such a dramatic increase carried a financial price tag of $3.3 billion in "victimization costs," according to their paper.

Lott and Whitley are not the first to challenge Levitt’s popular book.

In November 2005, Christopher Foote, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and research assistant Christopher Goetz, told the Wall St. Journal the data Levitt used was faulty.

Foote said 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.