Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Does Abortion Cut Crime?

Steve Sailer slams another homerun in his latest, in which he refutes economist Steven D. Levitt's theory that abortion cuts crime. Sailer finds exactly the opposite. Here's a pertinent paragraph from his write-up in the The American Conservative.

But the acid test of Levitt’s theory is this: did the first New, Improved Generation culled by legalized abortion actually grow up to be more lawful teenagers than the last generation born before legalization? Hardly. Instead, the first cohort to survive legalized abortion went on the worst youth murder spree in American history.

Abortion became legal in 1970 in California, New York, and three smaller states. Let’s compare the murder rate of 14- to 17-year-olds in 1983 (who were born in the last pre-legalization years of 1965-1969) with that of 14- to 17-year-olds a decade later in 1993 (who were born in the high-abortion years of 1975-1979). Was this post-Roe cohort better behaved than their pre-legalization elders? Not exactly. Their murder rate was 3.1 times worse.

This result might surprise you:

Why did the abortion rate and the illegitimacy rate both skyrocket during the ‘70s? Isn’t abortion supposed to cut illegitimacy? Roe largely finished off the traditional shotgun wedding by persuading the impregnating boyfriend that he had no moral duty to make an honest woman of his girlfriend since she could get an abortion. The CDC noted, “Among women aged 15–29 years conceiving a first birth before marriage during 1970–74, nearly half (49 percent) married before the child was born. By 1975–79 the proportion marrying before the birth of the child fell to 32 percent, and it has declined to 23 percent in 1990–94.”

In fact, a wise man in 1968 predicted this would happen with the legalization of contraception (and a fortiori for abortion):

...first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection. (17)

The presumption here is that there is an unchanging nature underlying our humanity. By "unchanging nature," I don't mean whether or not one takes a car to work instead of a horse, or that one pierces unusual body parts, but that the basic interactions (which flow directly from our human nature) remain changed: every human being throughout history has required air, food, water, shelter, and parents. It is from needs such as these that basic principles of right and wrong flow. The arrogance of our age is to thoughtlessly throw off the difficultly acquired moral insights of previous generations. By moral insights, I mean answers to Aristotle's question: what can I do to have a fulfilling life?

***

That being said, I've just been checking one of Steve's plots, the one drawn from this Bureau of Justice page.

Steve sees an upward trend in the data for the first Roe cohort. I'd really like to agree with his conclusion, but unfortunately he makes the common mistake of omitting uncertainty, which I take to be the number with unknown ages. Here's my plot:

As you can see, the uncertainties are rather large and wash out most trends. The red line is another possible fit to the data with error bars.


I must say that I like it when a write is generous enough to laud the worthy aspects of an adversary's work. Here Steve praises Levitt.


Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae (On Human Life), 1968 July 25, n. 17.

Steve Sailer, The American Conservative (May 9, 2005).

1 comment:

Abefroeman said...

I think we missed the defining question. It is not about the womens right to choose as it is about when does life begin. Now with the recent cases like Terri Schivo we are going to start to decide when life ends as well. The later shows the result of the values associated from generations making it about choice not life.