Economists: Abortion Didn’t Decrease Crime, UK Stats Show Increase

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 10, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Economists: Abortion Didn’t Decrease Crime, UK Stats Show Increase

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 10
, 2008

London, England ( — A trio of economists have released the results of a new study disproving the supposed link between the legalization of abortion and a reduction in crime. John Donohue and Steven Levitt first introduced the repeatedly-criticized theory in 2001 and another report shows it’s untrue.

Three economists — Cal State University economics professor Leo Kahane, Nottingham University Business School professor David Paton and Rob Simmons of Lancaster University — review the hypothesis using both American and British data.

The three focused on England because abortions have been legal there longer (1969 versus 1973 for the United States) and because the British health system requires all abortions be reported to the government, unlike in the U.S.

"As a result, data on (legal) abortions are complete and of high quality," the trio wrote in their report on the VoxEU web site.

The economists evaluated both violent and nonviolent (property) crimes in the U.S. and England and found violent crimes in the UK increasing steadily over the years following legalized abortion.

But for property crimes in the UK and both types of crime in the United States, levels increased slightly over the years but eventually returned to the pre-abortion levels.

None of the four crime measurements showed any decrease in crimes immediately following legal abortions. In fact, only one of the four crime levels in the decades following legalized abortion ever dropped below the initial level in the year when both nations legalized abortions.

"Violent crime does not decrease at all over the period. The trends are not supportive of a link between abortion and crime," the economists write at the VoxEU web site.

Violent and Property Crime Rates in US and UK Since Abortion Legalization:

The economists also note that US crime rates fell in the 1990s but that the rates fell not only among younger Americans born after Roe v. Wade, but fell among older Americans as well — indicating abortion likely had no effect on crime.

"Given all this, it seems highly unlikely that the legalization of abortion can, as Donohue and Levitt hypothesized, explain the dramatic drop in crime observed in the US in the 1990s," the economists write.

The authors also reject the hypothesis that abortion reduced the number of unwanted children who were more likely to commit crimes.

"Prior to the legalization of abortion, unwanted babies did not necessarily become unwanted children," they wrote.

The authors point to data showing adoption rates in England were significantly higher before abortion was allowed than afterwards — showing many so-called unwanted children were adopted by loving families who wanted them.

"The rate of infants under five who had been adopted at birth decreased from 16 per thousand in the mid-1960s to about 5 per thousand just 10 years later," they said.

"Rather than just reducing the number of unwanted children, abortion legalization appears to have reduced the number of unwanted infants who would have ended up (through adoption) being wanted children," they write.

The analysis isn’t the first to toss aside the notion that abortion decreases crime. has reported, an August 2007 study conducted by a researcher at the University of Maryland shows that legalized abortion has led to higher rates of crime and increased murder rates.

This occurred because a higher percentage of children grew up in single-parent homes during the years following Roe v. Wade.

The findings were published in the April 2007 issue of the academic journal Economic Inquiry and are part of a new book written by researcher John R. Lott. Lott and John Whitley, affiliated with the University of Chicago, first wrote a paper in August 2006 challenging claims that abortion led to less crime.

A second study, in November 2005, saw Christopher Foote, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and research assistant Christopher Goetz, saying 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," Foote and Goetz say in their report.