Has Roe v. Wade Reduced U.S. Crime Rates? Examining the Longitudinal Effects of Unwanted Childbearing on Parenting and Criminal Behavior

Carter Hay, Washington State University
Amber Cleverly, Washington State University
Michelle Evans, Washington State University
Katie Evermann-Druffel, Washington State University
Jessica Throop, Washington State University

U.S. crime rates have dropped steadily since the early 1990s, and one explanation receiving increasing attention is the legalization of abortion that occurred with the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. In a recent analysis of state-level variations in abortion and crime rates, Donahue and Levitt (2001) concluded that as much as 50 percent of the crime reduction in the 1990s is explained by the greater ability after Roe v. Wade to terminate unwanted pregnancies. The key underlying premise of their argument is that such pregnancies should produce children with substantially higher lifetime risks of criminality. The purpose of this paper is to empirically examine this premise. We use data from the National Survey of Children (NSC) to assess the longitudinal effects of unwantede childbearing on a wide range of outcomes, including the quality of parenting, the level of childhood antisocial behavior, and the level of criminal behavior during adolescence and early adulthood. NSC respondents were born between 1965 and 1969, at least four years prior to Roe v. Wade. Respondents and their mothers were first interviewed in 1976 (at which point, mothers were asked whether their child was the result of an unwanted pregnancy), and then reinterviewed in 1981 and 1987.

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Updated 05/20/2006