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Abortion and Crime: Unwanted Children and Out-of-Wedlock Births

John Lott and John Whitley
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John Lott: American Enterprise Institute
John Whitley: University of Adelaide, School of Economics

No yale_lepp-1018, Yale Law School John M. Olin Center for Studies in Law, Economics, and Public Policy Working Paper Series from Yale Law School John M. Olin Center for Studies in Law, Economics, and Public Policy

Abstract: Abortion may prevent the birth of "unwanted" children, who would have relatively small investments in human capital and a higher probability of crime. On the other hand, some research suggests that legalizing abortion increases out-of-wedlock births and single parent families, which implies the opposite impact on investments in human capital and thus crime. The question is: what is the net impact? We find evidence that legalizing abortion increased murder rates by around about 0.5 to 7 percent. Previous estimates are shown to suffer from not directly linking the cohorts who are committing crime with whether they had been born before or after abortion was legal.

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