The Roots of Law

74 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2007 Last revised: 4 Feb 2009

See all articles by Larry D. Barnett

Larry D. Barnett

Widener University Delaware Law School


The article rests on the macrosociological thesis that (i) the concepts and doctrines used in law are determined by the properties of society and that (ii) these properties are produced by large-scale forces. The thesis thus maintains that the content of law is not shaped by the persons who serve as legislators, judges, and executive-branch policymakers; such individuals are merely the vehicles by which societal conditions mold law. To illustrate, the article examines shifts in law in the United States on a number of subjects, including law setting the age of majority and law regulating access to abortion, and it links these shifts to changes in specific aspects of U.S. society. Data from the 1960 census on the 48 coterminous states are analyzed with logistic regression to identify system-level properties distinguishing states that liberalized their law on abortion between 1967 and 1972 (i.e., before the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade) from states that did not. The regression analysis, in conjunction with time-series data for the nation as a whole, suggests that the liberalization by states and by Roe of law-imposed restrictions on abortion was associated mainly with increases in school enrollment and educational level among young women. The article advances the premise that the American social system and its law have been broadly affected by long-term growth in the quantity of knowledge, and ascribes the rising prevalence and longer duration of education among women - as antecedents of the liberalization of law on abortion - primarily to the expansion of knowledge.

Keywords: macrosociology, law, abortion, school enrollment, educational level, women

JEL Classification: K10, K30

Suggested Citation

Barnett, Larry D., The Roots of Law. American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, Vol. 15, No. 4, pp. 613-686, 2007. Available at SSRN:

Larry D. Barnett (Contact Author)

Widener University Delaware Law School ( email )

4601 Concord Pike
Wilmington, DE 19803-0406
United States
302-477-2134 (Phone)

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