Aborting crime

Garth George at The Herald reckons that the root cause of all abuse and domestic violence is abortion. His position seems largely religious in nature so I can’t argue the point on his grounds. However, I was surprised to see reasonable-sounding commentators at Kiwiblog unsure whether George might be correct. This topic isn’t a new one and the most recent stab at it has been by the famous economist Steven Levitt and his co-author, John Donohue. In their paper they use statistical techniques to show that the drop in US crime in the ’90s was correlated with states’ legalisation of abortion.

They hypothesise that unwanted babies are more likely to live neglected lives and turn to crime, and then find the numbers to support their guess. Since then there have been attacks on their numbers which have generally come up short, or been shown not to affect the conclusions. Of course, correlation does not equal causation, so what can we say for sure?

Well, Donohue and Levitt’s numbers give some credence to claims that abortion reduces crime rates. Yet there are no sigificant studies that I’m aware of which support George’s claim that abortion causes crime. At present, the weight of evidence suggests that legalised abortion is a good thing for all those who want to feel safe at night. Perhaps, then, the social conservatives who oppose legalised abortion are right to worry about the crime rate!

  • I was surprised to see reasonable-sounding commentators at Kiwiblog

    I’m sorry, the what-sounding commentators?

  • goonix

    There are certainly some ‘interesting’ characters on there. I was thinking about posting over there my classification of the four broad groups of people that post there: libertarians, god cheerleading squad, the conspiracy theorist nutters (incorporating those still living in some bizarre cold war fantasy land) and the ‘lefty’/’liberal’ trolls.

  • John Lott has work that shows that abortion increases crime. See p.117-127 of his book “Freedomnomics” for a readable intro to his argument.

    For the economists among us, see John Lott and John Whitley “Abortion and Crime: Unwanted Children and Out-of-Wedlock Births”, Economic Inquiry, April 2007, v. 45, iss. 2, pp. 304-24.

  • FYI, the Lott and Whitley paper has been around since 2001, just in case you think the 2007 paper breaks new ground.

  • I seem to recall that Levitt also wrote that longer jail sentences played a part – at first – by removing recidivist criminals from society. But the subsequent loss of “viable” men means young women in the same socio/ethnic groups have reduced choices, and many of those men who do remain have lost the ethic of personal responsibility, leading to greater numbers of single mothers, creating a new cycle of deprived children and higher crime rates. Many of these young women also seem to not have the sense to use contraception or abortion. The sad reality is that the people who would get the greatest benefit from abortion are the ones least likely to avail themselves of it.

  • Ah, of course, how could I forget Lott’s paper after the huge lawsuit and fracas that followed it!? Thanks for picking that up.

  • Can you provide some commentary on the “huge lawsuit and fracas” for an uninformed reader like myself?

  • Levitt, in Freakonomics, said that Lott’s work hadn’t been replicated by others. He also said in correspondence with another academic that Lott’s work was rubbish and he’d paid to get it published. Lott sued him for defamation and the case still isn’t entirely over. I believe relations between them and their supporters have been less than cordial.

  • The second part of this where it gives examples of Levitt’s behavior is particularly interesting


  • “The second part of this where it gives examples of Levitt’s behavior is particularly interesting”

    Sounds like time to pull out the Samuelson quote 😉