Boston Globe writer James Alan Fox has yet another refutation of the claim by economists John Donohue and Steven Levitt in their infamous book Freakonomics that legalizing abortion led to a drop in crime rates.
Fox said readers of the newspaper emailed him recently concerning a New York Times piece on crime rate reductions and they advocated the disproved notion that legalized abortion resulted in a reduction in violent crimes. Fox, a criminologist, has responded and says the theory is full of holes:
Despite persuasive logic regarding a reduction in the number of children born to circumstances that would place them at-risk for growing into criminality, the significance of this effect appears to have been grossly overstated. For example, nearly 60% of the decline in murder since 1990 involved perpetrators ages 25 and older—individuals who would have been born prior to the landmark abortion decision. As shown in the figure below, there were substantial reductions during the 1990s in homicides committed by older age groups, especially those in the 25-34 year-old age range.
The abortion-crime link also cannot account for the transient surge in youth homicide during the late 1980s, if not for which the 1990s would not have witnessed such a sizable decline. The rise and then fall in youth homicide before and then after 1990 has much more to do with fast changing patterns of drug trade, gang activity and illegal gun supply than a sudden shift in abortion policy.
Finally, the abortion-crime hypothesis cannot explain the large drop in murder and other violent crime from the first six months of 2009 to the corresponding months of 2010. In fact, nothing really can.
This is not the first time Fox, of Northeastern University, has refuted the abortion-crime theory. He released a study in December 2008 showing a large rise in homicides by black teens in recent years even though black women have the highest abortion rate. The study found homicides by blacks between the ages of 14 and 17 have jumped 34 percent from 2000 through 2007. The number of crimes for white people in the same age range did not increase.
In the book Freakonomics, Levitt claimed legalizing abortion led to a major drop in murder and other violent crimes in the 1980s and 1990s. He theorized that the babies who were victimized by abortion would have been more likely to commit crimes. But Fox’s study shows violent crime in the black community has gone up in the last decade — not down.
“Yes, it’s not nearly as bad as it was in 1990, but it is worse than it was in 2000,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times.
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. That 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. According to Lott, the high court’s decision ultimately resulted in more out-of-wedlock births, a reduction in the number of children adopted and fewer married parents.
Before that, Lott and John Whitley, affiliated with the University of Chicago, wrote a paper in August 2006 challenging the abortion-crime reduction claims.
Meanwhile, 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,” Foote and Goetz say in their report.