Freakonomics Revisited

Remember Freakonomics, the book published last year that, among other things, claimed that the legalization of abortion led to a huge reduction in murder and other violent crime? freakonomics Former University of Chicago economist John Lott is taking issue with the book’s author, one-time colleague Steven Levitt, in a forthcoming paper. In an article titled “Economists Feud on Abortion, Crime,” today’s Chicago Sun-Times reports:

John R. Lott Jr., a former U. of C. economist now teaching in New York, says the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision actually caused violent crime to rise. Lott and fellow researcher John Whitley plan to publish a paper in October in Economic Inquiry that questions Levitt’s research on abortion and crime… In their new paper, Lott and Whitley say that legalization of abortion prompted a cultural change that increased the number of children born out of wedlock. Those children of unwed mothers caused murders to rise by more than 700 cases in 1998 alone, saddling the public with more than $3.3 billion in “victimization costs,” the paper says.

Later, the article reports:

[Lott’s] theory is that with the option of abortion, women became more likely to have premarital sex, but then had their babies and raised them as single parents… On average, his paper says, about 5 percent of whites were born out of wedlock from 1965 to 1969, rising two decades later to 16 percent. For blacks, the figure rose from about 35 percent to about 62 percent, the paper says. Before legalized abortion, more than 70 percent of children born out of wedlock ended up in families with a father, but the fraction fell to 44 percent in 1984, according to the paper.

Without a doubt, Lott is onto something by connecting the dots between abortion and an increase in violent crime. I wonder if his forthcoming paper will, in turn, address the role of contraception in contributing to a staggering abortion rate in the first place.

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