Levitt on Abortion/Crime: A FREAK-TV Collage of Evidence

Video

In the video player on the left, you’ll find Part 2 of Levitt’s discussion of the research behind the abortion/crime link. (You can find Part 1 in the video player as well; here’s the blog post that accompanied it.) In this installment, he discusses the collage of evidence that convinced him and John Donohue of the link between legalized abortion and a lower crime rate.

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COMMENTS: 31


  1. Charles Paul Hoffman says:

    Out of curiosity – was there ever any follow-up research to look at the crime rates in other countries after they legalized abortion? For example, abortion was legalized later in Canada (1988) than in the United States. If the increase in abortion did indeed have an impact on crime, we should see it in other countries as well.

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  2. Charles Paul Hoffman says:

    Out of curiosity – was there ever any follow-up research to look at the crime rates in other countries after they legalized abortion? For example, abortion was legalized later in Canada (1988) than in the United States. If the increase in abortion did indeed have an impact on crime, we should see it in other countries as well.

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  3. mgroves says:

    What the heck is with the random stock footage?

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  4. mgroves says:

    What the heck is with the random stock footage?

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  5. Julian says:

    I really love the random stock footage

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  6. Julian says:

    I really love the random stock footage

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  7. Alex says:

    I was a believer given the intuitiveness of the “abortion-crime link” logic – until I read of Rick Nevin’s research on international correlation between discontinuing leaded gas and dropping crime rates. He shows numerous countries where 18 years after banning leaded gas the crime rate drops. Also points out that Britain legalized abortion in 70′s (withOUT lead ban) but saw crime soar in 90′s.

    Below is a link to Washington Post abstract

    http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost/access/1301021401.html?dids=1301021401:1301021401&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Jul+8%2C+2007&author=Shankar+Vedantam+-+Washington+Post+Staff+Writer&pub=The+Washington+Post&edition=&startpage=A.2&desc=Research+Links+Lead+Exposure%2C+Criminal+Activity

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  8. Alex says:

    I was a believer given the intuitiveness of the “abortion-crime link” logic – until I read of Rick Nevin’s research on international correlation between discontinuing leaded gas and dropping crime rates. He shows numerous countries where 18 years after banning leaded gas the crime rate drops. Also points out that Britain legalized abortion in 70′s (withOUT lead ban) but saw crime soar in 90′s.

    Below is a link to Washington Post abstract

    http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost/access/1301021401.html?dids=1301021401:1301021401&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Jul+8%2C+2007&author=Shankar+Vedantam+-+Washington+Post+Staff+Writer&pub=The+Washington+Post&edition=&startpage=A.2&desc=Research+Links+Lead+Exposure%2C+Criminal+Activity

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  9. Alex says:

    Also – Mr Dubner, have you seen Mr Nevin’s research and do you have any comment on it?

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  10. Alex says:

    Also – Mr Dubner, have you seen Mr Nevin’s research and do you have any comment on it?

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  11. TDK says:

    Actually Britain legalised abortion in the 1960s, 1967+/-2 I would guess. That would lead to a drop in 1995. In actual fact the crime rate was rising throughout the 1980s and peaked around the time Michael Howard was made home secretary. After that the rise ceased and crime levelled off or perhaps dipped a little. There has certainly not been the dramatic reduction seen in the US. Some crime, particularly violent crime has continued to rise, whilst others have fallen. Michael Howard was the Home secretary who famously declared that “prison works”. His policies were not reversed by Labour with the consequence that prison populations continued to rise.

    Now it may be that Michael Howard’s reforms just happened to coincide with the magic 1995 threshold, but then we would be forced to conclude that not enough abortions were carried out to achieve the dramatic falls seen in the US! I’m inclined to wonder what caused the rise up to 1995 in the UK and up to 1990 in the US. It’s not as if abortion became progressively more difficult to obtain; probably the reverse if evidence submitted by David Steele in the 1960s is any guide.

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  12. TDK says:

    Actually Britain legalised abortion in the 1960s, 1967+/-2 I would guess. That would lead to a drop in 1995. In actual fact the crime rate was rising throughout the 1980s and peaked around the time Michael Howard was made home secretary. After that the rise ceased and crime levelled off or perhaps dipped a little. There has certainly not been the dramatic reduction seen in the US. Some crime, particularly violent crime has continued to rise, whilst others have fallen. Michael Howard was the Home secretary who famously declared that “prison works”. His policies were not reversed by Labour with the consequence that prison populations continued to rise.

    Now it may be that Michael Howard’s reforms just happened to coincide with the magic 1995 threshold, but then we would be forced to conclude that not enough abortions were carried out to achieve the dramatic falls seen in the US! I’m inclined to wonder what caused the rise up to 1995 in the UK and up to 1990 in the US. It’s not as if abortion became progressively more difficult to obtain; probably the reverse if evidence submitted by David Steele in the 1960s is any guide.

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  13. Rita: Lovely Meter Maid says:

    Connections like this (Abortion + crime rate) make me think of that iconic story of the butterfly flapping it’s wings in Japan. (Or somewhere). And then, somewhere else a hurricane happens that was started by the butterfly all those many miles away. (Or something like that). Anyway, it’s all connected, everything, that is, in this world, or so it’s said. So, I can’t say I’m really surprised at the link Levitt uncovers, although it Is a very startling one to come up with.

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  14. Rita: Lovely Meter Maid says:

    Connections like this (Abortion + crime rate) make me think of that iconic story of the butterfly flapping it’s wings in Japan. (Or somewhere). And then, somewhere else a hurricane happens that was started by the butterfly all those many miles away. (Or something like that). Anyway, it’s all connected, everything, that is, in this world, or so it’s said. So, I can’t say I’m really surprised at the link Levitt uncovers, although it Is a very startling one to come up with.

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  15. luca says:

    i like the concept “collage of evidence”

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  16. luca says:

    i like the concept “collage of evidence”

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  17. marc-paul lee says:

    for me this is not so much an issue of “abortion” as of “unwanted babies.” as levitt mentions elsewhere abortions don’t lower the number of babies ultimately born but postpones the birth decision to later in a woman’s life, presumably when she (and the father?) are more ready to face the responsibilites of raising a _wanted_ child. even if adopted one might imagine that a child would still feel “unwanted” by his birth parents. i’m usually skeptical of “the power of love” but this may be a clear-cut instance where love (i.e., a planned baby) can make the difference between a well-adjusted child and a potential criminal.

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  18. marc-paul lee says:

    for me this is not so much an issue of “abortion” as of “unwanted babies.” as levitt mentions elsewhere abortions don’t lower the number of babies ultimately born but postpones the birth decision to later in a woman’s life, presumably when she (and the father?) are more ready to face the responsibilites of raising a _wanted_ child. even if adopted one might imagine that a child would still feel “unwanted” by his birth parents. i’m usually skeptical of “the power of love” but this may be a clear-cut instance where love (i.e., a planned baby) can make the difference between a well-adjusted child and a potential criminal.

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  19. Val says:

    Why is it so “surprising” that a bunch of future vandals, thieves, murderes, hostile schoolchildren, prowling teens, assaulters, public nuisances, crappy drivers, rapists, harassers and carjackers not being born lowers the crime rate?

    Why are so many people like the (satirized) broad on “The Simpsons”? Shrieking, “Think of the children! Won’t SOMEbody PLEASE think of the chiiiilllldrrrennn?!?”

    Completely aside from being repulsed by the thought of birth forced on a woman – how is that better than forced birth control? -

    I can do without the precious heritage of our future car thieves.

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  20. Val says:

    Why is it so “surprising” that a bunch of future vandals, thieves, murderes, hostile schoolchildren, prowling teens, assaulters, public nuisances, crappy drivers, rapists, harassers and carjackers not being born lowers the crime rate?

    Why are so many people like the (satirized) broad on “The Simpsons”? Shrieking, “Think of the children! Won’t SOMEbody PLEASE think of the chiiiilllldrrrennn?!?”

    Completely aside from being repulsed by the thought of birth forced on a woman – how is that better than forced birth control? –

    I can do without the precious heritage of our future car thieves.

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  21. William Tanksley says:

    Val said: “I can do without the precious heritage of our future car thieves.”

    That argument doesn’t have any brakes. It applies as well to any high-crime segment of society (behavioral, racial, developmental)… It argues that if a person is statistically more likely than some unknown level to commit a crime, we should kill them to prevent that crime.

    The earlier argument about “unwanted babies” by marc-paul lee is much wiser. (I don’t agree with it either, but it’s a legitimate argument that applies to the subject at hand without accidentally overgeneralizing.)

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  22. William Tanksley says:

    Val said: “I can do without the precious heritage of our future car thieves.”

    That argument doesn’t have any brakes. It applies as well to any high-crime segment of society (behavioral, racial, developmental)… It argues that if a person is statistically more likely than some unknown level to commit a crime, we should kill them to prevent that crime.

    The earlier argument about “unwanted babies” by marc-paul lee is much wiser. (I don’t agree with it either, but it’s a legitimate argument that applies to the subject at hand without accidentally overgeneralizing.)

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  23. Val says:

    What happened to the “Collage of Evidence”? It’s already gone! There is now something titled “Three Mile Island Effect”, and a search produces the “Collage of Evidence” page with the same TMI video, ad nauseum.

    Help me find it!

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  24. Val says:

    What happened to the “Collage of Evidence”? It’s already gone! There is now something titled “Three Mile Island Effect”, and a search produces the “Collage of Evidence” page with the same TMI video, ad nauseum.

    Help me find it!

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  25. Citizen Camillus says:

    Looks like trouble for the abortion-crime argument from Prof’s Anderson and Wells:

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=997912

    Concepts of numerical analysis with applications to least squares problems are introduced in a manner which the practitioner can readily apply to their research problems, especially in the social sciences. Numerical analysis is mainly concerned with the accuracy and stability of numerical algorithms. We frame these concerns in terms of forward and backward error, two important concepts in helping to understand the quality of the computed answers. The goal of numerical computing is to get correct, approximate answers to the true solution. We extended this forward and backward error framework to issues in least squares problems and check the condition of the regression problem via condition numbers. The more ill-conditioned the data are, the more sensitive the computed solution is to perturbations in the data, and the more unstable the computed solutions become. Condition numbers can also be used to signal the presence of solution degrading collinearity in regression problems. We apply the various numerical analysis tools outlined with some model diagnostics to the abortion-crime debate, and show the regression analysis used in various papers addressing the abortion-crime debate cannot be trusted.

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  26. Citizen Camillus says:

    Looks like trouble for the abortion-crime argument from Prof’s Anderson and Wells:

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=997912

    Concepts of numerical analysis with applications to least squares problems are introduced in a manner which the practitioner can readily apply to their research problems, especially in the social sciences. Numerical analysis is mainly concerned with the accuracy and stability of numerical algorithms. We frame these concerns in terms of forward and backward error, two important concepts in helping to understand the quality of the computed answers. The goal of numerical computing is to get correct, approximate answers to the true solution. We extended this forward and backward error framework to issues in least squares problems and check the condition of the regression problem via condition numbers. The more ill-conditioned the data are, the more sensitive the computed solution is to perturbations in the data, and the more unstable the computed solutions become. Condition numbers can also be used to signal the presence of solution degrading collinearity in regression problems. We apply the various numerical analysis tools outlined with some model diagnostics to the abortion-crime debate, and show the regression analysis used in various papers addressing the abortion-crime debate cannot be trusted.

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  27. David Kessler says:

    TDK Wrote: “Actually Britain legalised abortion in the 1960s, 1967+/-2 I would guess. That would lead to a drop in 1995″

    1967 is correct. But shouldn’t the crime drop be in 1985? By 1995 they’d be 28 – or rather NOT be, if they weren’t born! And as far as I know there was NO drop in crime in Britain in the mid 1980′s. So the legalization of (free) abortion doesn’t seem to have done anything to reduce crime in the UK.

    As for leaded gasoline, I remember as a member of Friends of the Earth in the early seventies we were calling for it to be banned on the grounds of evidence (albeit inconclusive) that it caused hyperactivity in children – which could go on to lead to criminality.

    Leaded gasoline (or leaded petrol as we call it here) was finally banned in the year 2000. So I guess we’ll have to wait till 2018 to see the results!

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  28. David Kessler says:

    TDK Wrote: “Actually Britain legalised abortion in the 1960s, 1967+/-2 I would guess. That would lead to a drop in 1995″

    1967 is correct. But shouldn’t the crime drop be in 1985? By 1995 they’d be 28 – or rather NOT be, if they weren’t born! And as far as I know there was NO drop in crime in Britain in the mid 1980′s. So the legalization of (free) abortion doesn’t seem to have done anything to reduce crime in the UK.

    As for leaded gasoline, I remember as a member of Friends of the Earth in the early seventies we were calling for it to be banned on the grounds of evidence (albeit inconclusive) that it caused hyperactivity in children – which could go on to lead to criminality.

    Leaded gasoline (or leaded petrol as we call it here) was finally banned in the year 2000. So I guess we’ll have to wait till 2018 to see the results!

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  29. Mary says:

    I agree with the person who commented “It argues that if a person is statistically more likely … to commit a crime, we should kill them to prevent that crime.”

    You could also argue that we should abort all the babies of the poor – we could pretty much eliminate povety that way, too. Is Mr. Dubner saying kill off our problems instead of looking for positive ways to solve them?
    Even though his statistical methods in this case have been discounted Mr. Dubner is still pushing this idea.

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  30. Mary says:

    I agree with the person who commented “It argues that if a person is statistically more likely … to commit a crime, we should kill them to prevent that crime.”

    You could also argue that we should abort all the babies of the poor – we could pretty much eliminate povety that way, too. Is Mr. Dubner saying kill off our problems instead of looking for positive ways to solve them?
    Even though his statistical methods in this case have been discounted Mr. Dubner is still pushing this idea.

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  31. Steven S.Baum says:

    Sorry to burst a bubble,but the highest rate of crime comes from the LOWEST rate of abortions in our society = black & minority.
    MOST criminals are from the lower income [ welfare ] part of society,and that points to abortion NOT being the cause of less crime in the past few decades.
    I was a police officer and I dont mince words,or facts.
    The facts speak for themselves,and that is not a “poll” that is taken by those with agendas.

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