Economist Behind Abortion-Crime Link Defends Theory Despite Refutations

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 22, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Economist Behind Abortion-Crime Link Defends Theory Despite Refutations

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 22
, 2008

Philadelphia, PA ( — The economist behind the disproved theory that legal abortions have led to a lowering of crime rates defended his notion. "Freakonomics" author Steven Levitt gave a lecture yesterday at the Penn Museum and said he’s convinced the theory is correct despite several studies showing otherwise.

In introducing Levitt to the audience, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Rebecca Bushnell said Levitt’s level of "celebrity" is "unusual" among academics.

According to the Daily Pennsylvanian, Levitt said he had to come up with unusual ideas in order to separate himself from other economists.

"If you are not as good at doing something as everybody else, you have to be different," he contended.

Perhaps the most unusual idea he devised is the notion that abortion decreased crime — a topic he defended in the lecture and admitted was controversial.

The newspaper said Levitt spent most of his time talking about the abortion-crime link, saying his study was based on "pretty strong evidence" and that he offended nearly "every person on the planet."

He also shared how he once heard the "only good abortion is an abortion of an economist."

Despite his defense, several studies show the abortion-crime link is a myth.

Earlier this month, a trio of American and British economists reviewed the hypothesis using both American and British data.

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.

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 wrote.

An August 2007 study conducted by a researcher at the University of Maryland showed 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 third 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 were carried to term," Foote and Goetz say in their report.