Further Evidence that Legalized Abortion Lowered Crime: A Reply to Joyce

31 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2003  

John J. Donohue III

Stanford Law School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Steven D. Levitt

University of Chicago; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); American Bar Foundation

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: March 2003

Abstract

Donohue and Levitt (2001) present a number of analyses that suggest a causal link between legalized abortion and reductions in crime almost two decades later when the cohorts exposed to legalized abortion reach their peak crime years. Joyce (2003) challenges that finding. In this paper, we demonstrate that Joyce's failure to uncover a negative relationship between abortion and crime is a direct consequence of his decision to focus exclusively on the six-year period 1985-90 without including adequate controls for the crack epidemic. We provide empirical evidence that crack hit the high-abortion early legalizing states harder and earlier. We then demonstrate that using precisely the same treatment and control groups as Joyce, but extending the data analysis to encompass the lifetime criminal experiences (as opposed to an arbitrary six-year window), the evidence strongly supports the hypothesis that legalized abortion reduces crime. We also show that our original results are robust to focusing on only the cohorts born immediately before or after Roe v. Wade. The data suggest that ease of access to abortion, rather than simply de jure legalization, is a critical determinant of the extent of the crime reduction.

JEL Classification: K42, I38, J13

Suggested Citation

Donohue, John J. and Levitt, Steven D., Further Evidence that Legalized Abortion Lowered Crime: A Reply to Joyce (March 2003). Stanford Law and Economics Olin Working Paper No. 251; Stanford Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 56. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=385660 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.385660

John J. Donohue III (Contact Author)

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Steven D. Levitt

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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American Bar Foundation

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University of Chicago ( email )

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