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Abortion Decisions in the U.S

Robert Michael

No 9910, Working Papers from Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago

Abstract: This paper investigates the decision to have an abortion. It does so in a pregnancy-by-pregnancy context over the time interval from the mid-1950s through 1991. The analysis frames the choice as one made at the time the pregnancy is confirmed, and suggests that the decision is influenced by age, parity, marital status, the legal status of abortion, and also by the opportunity costs of bearing the child at that time, by religiosity and by race/ethnicity. The empirical work uses the National Health and Social Life Survey (NHSLS) conducted in 1992 and is undertaken separately for the first three pregnancies reported by both the women and the men in that data set. The findings suggest substantial purposive or strategic behavior. There is a strong association between the age at the time of the pregnancy and the likelihood of abortion when nothing else is controlled: for women whose pregnancy occurred after 1973 and when she was under age 17, the abortion rate was 40%, for those aged 18-19, the abortion rate was 30%, for those who were in their 20s, the rate was 16% and for those over age 30 the rate was only 6%. Those whose pregnancy occurred before Roe v. Wade (1973) had dramatically lower abortion rates; the rates fall dramatically from the first conception to the second and remain much lower for the third. Those married at the time of the conception are far less likely to have an abortion (those cohabiting are somewhat less likely than those who are not cohabiting) and the variables reflecting the future educational or career opportunities of the prospective parent show a strong positive relationship with the likelihood of abortion: those with much to lose by having the child at that time are far more likely to end the pregnancy. These patterns, generally, are found for the men respondents as well as the women and these patterns persist across the first three pregnancies. When the controls (especially parity, marital status, and future prospects) are included in the model, age per se is not any longer an important factor in the decision to have an abortion. The paper includes an extensive discussion of the use of survey data as a source of information about abortion behavior.

Keywords: abortion; Roe v Wade (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 1999-07
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