Zell Miller is wrong, but he isn’t crazy

Zell Miller got into trouble with the media a few days back when he made the following statement, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution website:

… former U.S. Sen. Zell Miller made a little news this week in Macon when he declared that abortion has contributed to the military’s manpower shortage, the Social Security crisis, and the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States.

How could this great land of plenty produce too few people in the last 30 years? Here is the brutal truth that no one dares to mention: We’re too few because too many of our babies have been killed, Miller said.

Over 45 million since Roe v. Wade in 1973. If those 45 million children had lived, today they would be defending our country, they would be filling our jobs, they would be paying into Social Security, the former Georgia governor said.

Miller’s argument, ostensibly, is similar to that of my work with John Donohue on legalized abortion and crime. As discussed in Freakonomics, unwanted children are at increased risk for crime, and legalized abortion reduced the number of unwanted children, thus less crime. Miller, however, makes a key mistake in his logic. While it is true there have been many millions of abortions (although according to the official statistics more like 35 million than 45 million), even if those abortions had not occurred, there would not be that many more Americans today. The reason is that the primary impact of an abortion is not to reduce a woman’s lifetime number of children born, but rather, to simply shift the timing of a woman’s fertility from early in life to later in life. Based on a paper by John Donohue, Jeff Grogger, and I which will be out in a few weeks, I would estimate that each teenage abortion reduces lifetime babies born to the mother by maybe one-tenth of a child, or possibly even less. (For a woman who gets an abortion in her forties, the impact is obviously larger, but there are very few of those type of abortions.)

The key to our abortion argument is that women shift their births to a time when they can better care for the children. So even though there is not a big change in the size of the cohort born, the kids still turn out less criminal. Miller’s statement, however, is all about the cohort size, not about the unwantedness. By the way, Miller’s argument is the same one a caller to Bill Bennett’s radio show made a few years back, the response to which got Bennett into so much trouble — a lot more than Miller is in so far.


reeb

One comment about time shifting vs. population growth. Wouldn't if the women who were having babies at a younger age (say 20 vs. 30), their children in turn would reach their child bearing years earlier and thus see a growth in population through quicker generations rather than more children per generation? It seems that as far as population growth goes over time, the 1/10th number would not reflect the true difference, but on a per person/single generation basis it would.

Also, in addition to the unwanted children being at an increased risk for crime, it would be interesting to know if the unwanted children signed up for the military at an increased rate.

KevinCuddeback

#1 (above) is on to something: each individual woman reduces her lifetime contribution by 1/10th, AND permanently reduces the size of "earlier" cohorts by shifting people to "later" cohorts. Those earlier cohorts could both be having children (by now) and would (by now) be available in the workforce and still be eligible for military service.

mikey22

Hold on: Ausralian here so forgive my ignorance.

Doesn't the US military recruit strongly from within disadvantaged communities and amongst those with few choices?

In a time of war, only a person of either immense patriotism (and lets assume the number of these is static over time) or those with no other choice would willingly join a force that migth send them into war.

Are the group of people that that don't become criminals also be the same people that recruitment officers target? And are the soldiers that are responsible for any shortfall is numbers these same at risk people missing in crime numbers? Or is it just the war :P=

jyb

Yes, the US does recruit strongly among poor and minorities (in this country, this is virtually the same thing).

Also, yes, the war is immensely unpopular and I'm sure that as much as anything is the reason we're having trouble recruiting people.

edwardmking

I don't know any specific numbers about this, but I do know the the military pays extremely well. The fact that money is any incentive at all would cause those who want it the most, with the least opportunities to get it somewhere else, to join. I recall hearing something about the military having trouble recruiting lately (really? during a war??). They probably recruit more in more economically troubled areas because it's more effective because of the financial incentives. Of course, one could argue that those more well off might be more patriot to a system that has done well for them, but the fact that this sort of recruiting goes on would suggest money is a bigger factor.

There is also the fact that the military is well known for being the most successful resocializing institution this country has ever produced. For this reason, it might be true that people who grow up in economically and socially undesirable places have more to gain from the military in this respect.

(I haven't decided if that last statement is offensive yet. I guess I'll wait and see.)

The argument about abortion extending generational gaps is something I'd never considered. Since education not only leads to lower birth rates but (presumably) later child bearing (put off babies to get an education), I wonder if that impacts the population growth in poorer countries. hmmm....

Read more...

brent

Answer to #3, correction to #4, additional information to #5.

According to the last census:

1. The US military does not have an overrepresentation of minorities, but instead has percentages in line with the population as a whole.

2. The average socio-economic status and average education of US military personnel exceeds the average of the population as a whole.

The above may not have been true in the past, during the draft era of the US military; I just do not know. But the current technical requirements and training of military personnel is extensive.

Rimpinths

The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto commented about this blog entry in today's edition of Opinion Journal's "Best of the Web":

A Freakonomist's Blind Spot http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/shared-blogs/ajc/politicalinsider/entries/2007/03/09/says_zell_military_shortages_s.html

The other day, former senator Zell Miller offered a practical argument against legal abortion, which the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported:

*** QUOTE ***

Miller . . . declared that abortion has contributed to the military's manpower shortage, the Social Security crisis, and the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States.

"How could this great land of plenty produce too few people in the last 30 years? Here is the brutal truth that no one dares to mention: We're too few because too many of our babies have been killed," Miller said.

"Over 45 million since Roe v. Wade in 1973. If those 45 million children had lived, today they would be defending our country, they would be filling our jobs, they would be paying into Social Security," the former Georgia governor said. "Still, we watch as 3,700 babies are killed every single day in America. It is unbelievable that a nation under God would allow this."

*** END QUOTE ***

This is related to our own Roe effect hypothesis (abortion makes the population more Republican because Democrats have a greater propensity to abort their babies) and to the claim by economist Steven Levitt, author of "Freakonomics," that abortion reduces crime (because mothers in crime-prone demographics are more apt to abort).

Levitt, however, says on his blog http://www.freakonomics.com/blog/2007/03/13/zell-miller-is-wrong-but-he-isnt-crazy/ that Miller is wrong:

*** QUOTE ***

Miller . . . makes a key mistake in his logic. While it is true there have been many millions of abortions (although according to the official statistics more like 35 million than 45 million), even if those abortions had not occurred, there would not be that many more Americans today. The reason is that the primary impact of an abortion is not to reduce a woman's lifetime number of children born, but rather, to simply shift the timing of a woman's fertility from early in life to later in life.

Based on a paper by John Donohue, Jeff Grogger, and I which will be out in a few weeks, I would estimate that each teenage abortion reduces lifetime babies born to the mother by maybe one-tenth of a child, or possibly even less. (For a woman who gets an abortion in her forties, the impact is obviously larger, but there are very few of those type of abortions.)

The key to our abortion argument is that women shift their births to a time when they can better care for the children. So even though there is not a big change in the size of the cohort born, the kids still turn out less criminal. Miller's statement, however, is all about the cohort size, not about the unwantedness.

*** END QUOTE ***

It is no doubt true that the effect of abortion on population is not equal to the number of abortions. But Levitt makes an even worse logical error than Miller does: He fails to account for the fact that population is a function of time as well as number of children.

We addressed this point in our 2005 paper on the Roe effect in the sociological journal Society http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110006913 :

*** QUOTE ***

If a woman has a child at, say, age 30 rather than 20, one additional census passes before the child counts toward his state's congressional and electoral college apportionment, and two or three presidential elections pass before he reaches voting age. The compounding element applies here as well; if a woman has a daughter at 30 rather than 20, the daughter reaches childbearing age a decade later than she otherwise would have.

*** END QUOTE ***

Let's apply this to an area Miller discusses: Social Security. Suppose Sylvia has a daughter at age 20, and her daughter has a daughter at age 20. When Sylvia turns 65, her 45-year-old daughter and 25-year-old granddaughter will both be of working age, probably contributing to Social Security.

Now suppose Roberta waits till age 30 to bear a daughter, and her daughter does the same thing. When Roberta turns 65, her daughter will be 35 and her granddaughter will be 5. The working-age population among Roberta's descendants is 50% lower than among Sylvia's.

Delayed childbearing slows population growth, which means that the population at any given time will be lower, even if every woman eventually has exactly the same number of children. It's surprising that Levitt would miss this point.

Read more...

egretman

This is so funny. Abortion isn't about crime or social security or staffing the military.

It's simply about a woman not wanting to have a baby. That's all folks.

mikey22

[quote]1. The US military does not have an overrepresentation of minorities, but instead has percentages in line with the population as a whole.[/quote]
The military as a [b]whole[/b]. Correct me if I am wrong, but there are many non-risk positions counted there, like technicians, mechanics, programmers, admin satff, lawyers etc etc.

If there is a shortage (and I don't know there is), it might exist amongst a set group. I doubt fighter pilots are dwon, or cushy desk jobs and other "skilled" positions. I wonder if the numbers are in fact down amongst the very people that abortions were shown in thr Freakonomics book to reduce, i.e. "at risk" youths.

Pinkyracer

I love the chapter in Freakonomics and frequently refer to it in my work as a sex educator at Los Angeles high schools. I can't wait to read the article you're working on now. This guy Zell is crazy because the US has the highest birth rate of any developed country, in spite of the level of education and opportunities available to women here. I suspect it has something to do with the dominance of Christianity in our culture.

We don't need more Americans paying into Social Security, we need more Americans taking resonsibility for their own retirement funds. And aren't most of those migrant workers here legally and paying taxes, including social security? Not to mention that most American-born people would rather collect welfare than do the sort of work these migrant workers happily do. Keep up the good work, guys!

brent

[quote] If there is a shortage (and I don't know there is), it might exist amongst a set group. [unquote]

Definitely could be, actually I would be amazed if representation was similar for every position. It would be interesting to see if there are patterns that track how risky the military career is for injury and/or death.

If there are patterns, I bet they have changed since 9/11. Not a lot of perceived risk before then?

reeb

One comment about time shifting vs. population growth. Wouldn't if the women who were having babies at a younger age (say 20 vs. 30), their children in turn would reach their child bearing years earlier and thus see a growth in population through quicker generations rather than more children per generation? It seems that as far as population growth goes over time, the 1/10th number would not reflect the true difference, but on a per person/single generation basis it would.

Also, in addition to the unwanted children being at an increased risk for crime, it would be interesting to know if the unwanted children signed up for the military at an increased rate.

KevinCuddeback

#1 (above) is on to something: each individual woman reduces her lifetime contribution by 1/10th, AND permanently reduces the size of "earlier" cohorts by shifting people to "later" cohorts. Those earlier cohorts could both be having children (by now) and would (by now) be available in the workforce and still be eligible for military service.

mikey22

Hold on: Ausralian here so forgive my ignorance.

Doesn't the US military recruit strongly from within disadvantaged communities and amongst those with few choices?

In a time of war, only a person of either immense patriotism (and lets assume the number of these is static over time) or those with no other choice would willingly join a force that migth send them into war.

Are the group of people that that don't become criminals also be the same people that recruitment officers target? And are the soldiers that are responsible for any shortfall is numbers these same at risk people missing in crime numbers? Or is it just the war :P=

jyb

Yes, the US does recruit strongly among poor and minorities (in this country, this is virtually the same thing).

Also, yes, the war is immensely unpopular and I'm sure that as much as anything is the reason we're having trouble recruiting people.

edwardmking

I don't know any specific numbers about this, but I do know the the military pays extremely well. The fact that money is any incentive at all would cause those who want it the most, with the least opportunities to get it somewhere else, to join. I recall hearing something about the military having trouble recruiting lately (really? during a war??). They probably recruit more in more economically troubled areas because it's more effective because of the financial incentives. Of course, one could argue that those more well off might be more patriot to a system that has done well for them, but the fact that this sort of recruiting goes on would suggest money is a bigger factor.

There is also the fact that the military is well known for being the most successful resocializing institution this country has ever produced. For this reason, it might be true that people who grow up in economically and socially undesirable places have more to gain from the military in this respect.

(I haven't decided if that last statement is offensive yet. I guess I'll wait and see.)

The argument about abortion extending generational gaps is something I'd never considered. Since education not only leads to lower birth rates but (presumably) later child bearing (put off babies to get an education), I wonder if that impacts the population growth in poorer countries. hmmm....

Read more...

brent

Answer to #3, correction to #4, additional information to #5.

According to the last census:

1. The US military does not have an overrepresentation of minorities, but instead has percentages in line with the population as a whole.

2. The average socio-economic status and average education of US military personnel exceeds the average of the population as a whole.

The above may not have been true in the past, during the draft era of the US military; I just do not know. But the current technical requirements and training of military personnel is extensive.

Rimpinths

The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto commented about this blog entry in today's edition of Opinion Journal's "Best of the Web":

A Freakonomist's Blind Spot http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/shared-blogs/ajc/politicalinsider/entries/2007/03/09/says_zell_military_shortages_s.html

The other day, former senator Zell Miller offered a practical argument against legal abortion, which the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported:

*** QUOTE ***

Miller . . . declared that abortion has contributed to the military's manpower shortage, the Social Security crisis, and the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States.

"How could this great land of plenty produce too few people in the last 30 years? Here is the brutal truth that no one dares to mention: We're too few because too many of our babies have been killed," Miller said.

"Over 45 million since Roe v. Wade in 1973. If those 45 million children had lived, today they would be defending our country, they would be filling our jobs, they would be paying into Social Security," the former Georgia governor said. "Still, we watch as 3,700 babies are killed every single day in America. It is unbelievable that a nation under God would allow this."

*** END QUOTE ***

This is related to our own Roe effect hypothesis (abortion makes the population more Republican because Democrats have a greater propensity to abort their babies) and to the claim by economist Steven Levitt, author of "Freakonomics," that abortion reduces crime (because mothers in crime-prone demographics are more apt to abort).

Levitt, however, says on his blog http://www.freakonomics.com/blog/2007/03/13/zell-miller-is-wrong-but-he-isnt-crazy/ that Miller is wrong:

*** QUOTE ***

Miller . . . makes a key mistake in his logic. While it is true there have been many millions of abortions (although according to the official statistics more like 35 million than 45 million), even if those abortions had not occurred, there would not be that many more Americans today. The reason is that the primary impact of an abortion is not to reduce a woman's lifetime number of children born, but rather, to simply shift the timing of a woman's fertility from early in life to later in life.

Based on a paper by John Donohue, Jeff Grogger, and I which will be out in a few weeks, I would estimate that each teenage abortion reduces lifetime babies born to the mother by maybe one-tenth of a child, or possibly even less. (For a woman who gets an abortion in her forties, the impact is obviously larger, but there are very few of those type of abortions.)

The key to our abortion argument is that women shift their births to a time when they can better care for the children. So even though there is not a big change in the size of the cohort born, the kids still turn out less criminal. Miller's statement, however, is all about the cohort size, not about the unwantedness.

*** END QUOTE ***

It is no doubt true that the effect of abortion on population is not equal to the number of abortions. But Levitt makes an even worse logical error than Miller does: He fails to account for the fact that population is a function of time as well as number of children.

We addressed this point in our 2005 paper on the Roe effect in the sociological journal Society http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110006913 :

*** QUOTE ***

If a woman has a child at, say, age 30 rather than 20, one additional census passes before the child counts toward his state's congressional and electoral college apportionment, and two or three presidential elections pass before he reaches voting age. The compounding element applies here as well; if a woman has a daughter at 30 rather than 20, the daughter reaches childbearing age a decade later than she otherwise would have.

*** END QUOTE ***

Let's apply this to an area Miller discusses: Social Security. Suppose Sylvia has a daughter at age 20, and her daughter has a daughter at age 20. When Sylvia turns 65, her 45-year-old daughter and 25-year-old granddaughter will both be of working age, probably contributing to Social Security.

Now suppose Roberta waits till age 30 to bear a daughter, and her daughter does the same thing. When Roberta turns 65, her daughter will be 35 and her granddaughter will be 5. The working-age population among Roberta's descendants is 50% lower than among Sylvia's.

Delayed childbearing slows population growth, which means that the population at any given time will be lower, even if every woman eventually has exactly the same number of children. It's surprising that Levitt would miss this point.

Read more...

egretman

This is so funny. Abortion isn't about crime or social security or staffing the military.

It's simply about a woman not wanting to have a baby. That's all folks.

mikey22

[quote]1. The US military does not have an overrepresentation of minorities, but instead has percentages in line with the population as a whole.[/quote]
The military as a [b]whole[/b]. Correct me if I am wrong, but there are many non-risk positions counted there, like technicians, mechanics, programmers, admin satff, lawyers etc etc.

If there is a shortage (and I don't know there is), it might exist amongst a set group. I doubt fighter pilots are dwon, or cushy desk jobs and other "skilled" positions. I wonder if the numbers are in fact down amongst the very people that abortions were shown in thr Freakonomics book to reduce, i.e. "at risk" youths.