Legal Abortion Cuts Crime
Some money quotes:
Their key assumption about how humans behave was that legalizing abortion increased the "wantedness" of babies who were actually born, yet one obvious test was whether Roe v. Wade had driven down the illegitimacy rate. As it turns out, it definitely had not.
So for every six fetuses aborted in the 1970s, five would never have been conceived except for Roe! This ratio makes a sick joke out of Levitt’s assumption that legalization made a significant difference in how "wanted" children were.
(I remember when welfare reform was on the table, even Christian conservatives worrying that cutting off AFDC with its "no man in the house" rule would lead to more abortions, evidently assuming that, as long as she's poor and colored [see below], "the girl can't help it." Well, they were proven embarrassingly wrong.)
The reason that in Levitt's theory of American crime trends, Levitt cites only foreign studies claiming that women who have abortions would make less organized and effective mothers than the ones who went ahead and had their children is because the American studies of who gets an abortion came to the opposite conclusion.
As for why the crack crime wave eventually dropped:
A lot of the next cohort of urban youths, those born more than a half decade after abortion was legalized in their state, figured out that dealing crack was a stupid career choice. Seeing how their older brothers and cousins were winding up in prisons, wheelchairs, and cemeteries, they became less likely to commit murder. Participating in the crack wars turned out to be, for the vast majority of the gangstas, extremely bad life choices, and it's hardly surprising that the later cohort born in the early 1980s did a better job of figuring this out.
And best of all this:
In contrast, he's combined statistical incomprehensibility with the most simple-minded behavioral models -- he has repeatedly assumed, despite all the evidence from American studies cited above, that ghetto women decide whether or not to engage in unprotected sex and whether or not get an abortion or have an illegitimate child for the same reasons that would appeal to highly educated women of his own class. While Levitt's style of thinking about how women respond to legalized abortion has proven highly persuasive to the nonfiction book-purchasing class, it doesn't explain much at all about the behavior of the classes in which potential criminals are typically raised. A reader of mine who was an inner city social worker wrote:
HT to John Derbyshire, who adds this also sage comment:
Middle class types see poor unwed teenage mothers as Scum of the Earth and a Terrible Social Problem. But poor women don’t see themselves that way. Instead, they think of themselves as human beings facing the age-old challenge of getting along in the world -- and, if they're lucky, passing their genes on to the next generation.
This instructive little saga illustrates all sorts of things, from the usefulness of the tireless and diligent blogger to the self-congratulatory dishonesty of too many of our public intellectuals.
It also illustrates the importance to the political Right of having some competent datanauts on our side. Steve is amazingly good at this (he likes to describe himself as "the only Republican who knows Microsoft Excel"), and it is astonishing that some conservative think tank hasn't got him on a big fat permanent retainer by now.