Handbook on the Economics of Crime
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Handbook on the Economics of Crime

Edited by Bruce L. Benson and Paul R. Zimmerman

While few economists analyzed criminal behaviour and the criminal justice process before Gary Becker’s seminal 1968 paper, an enormous body of economic research on crime has since been produced. This insightful and comprehensive Handbook reviews and extends much of this important resulting research.
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Chapter 18: Abortion and Crime: A Review

Ted Joyce


* Ted Joyce Unwantedness leads to high crime; abortion leads to less unwantedness; abortion leads to less crime. (Steven Levitt)1 The academic debate will surely rage on for years, as studies and counterstudies are issued and enterprising young professors tie their hopes for tenure to either proving or disproving such a link. (John W. Whitehead, Washington Times, 28 June 2001) INTRODUCTION Ten years have passed since the Chicago Tribune published its front-page story on the relationship between legalized abortion and crime.2 In a then unpublished manuscript John Donohue and Steven Levitt contended that the legalization of abortion in the 1970s could explain as much as 50 percent of the dramatic decline in crime in the 1990s. Almost two years later the manuscript was the lead article in the Quarterly Journal of Economics. A flurry of press reports followed, but it was not until the publication of Steven Levitt and Steven Dubner’s phenomenally successful book, Freakonomics, that the association between legalized abortion and crime became well known among non-academics.3 The widespread familiarity of the abortion and crime hypothesis derives from several factors. First, the hypothesis is exceedingly controversial. Individually, abortion and crime generate impassioned responses, but linking them proved incendiary, which heightened interest in the media. Second, the conceptual hypothesis is readily accessible and easily expressed without equations or jargon. The notion that fewer unwanted children result in fewer psychologically injured and crime-prone adults strikes many as common sense. Third, the evidence, as presented, is similarly transparent. Roe v. Wade was...

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