Do Statutory Rape Laws Work?

20 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2009

See all articles by Matthew Henry

Matthew Henry

Cleveland State University

Scott Cunningham

Baylor University

Date Written: March 1, 2009


Every state in the United States has laws which prohibit sexual activity with individuals under a certain age. These laws are typically strict liability. Generally, they are justifed under the auspice of protecting young women from 'predatory' older males. However, nobody has examined the effectiveness of these laws. Using data from the National Longitudinal Surveys (NLSY), and exploiting the differences in the laws among states and over time, we examine whether the laws restricting the number of legal sexual partners delays the sexual debut of both males and females. We find that the laws are successful in accomplishing these goals. Overall, an additional 1 year of potential partners leads to about a 10% increase in the probability of sexual debut at any age.

Keywords: Statutory rape, criminal law, sexual debut

JEL Classification: K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Henry, Matthew and Cunningham, Scott, Do Statutory Rape Laws Work? (March 1, 2009). CELS 2009 4th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper, Available at SSRN: or

Matthew Henry (Contact Author)

Cleveland State University ( email )

Cleveland, OH
United States
216-687-4532 (Phone)


Scott Cunningham

Baylor University ( email )

One Bear Place #98003
Waco, TX 76798
United States
254-710-4753 (Phone)
254-710-6142 (Fax)


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