The AEI Event on the Abortion and Crime Debate

Josh Wright —  6 April 2006

The current debate regarding the link between abortion legalization and crime rates has been well publicized. Last week, the AEI held an event at which nearly every scholar to comment on this issue since the initial Donohue & Levitt results were released, stated their case. Here is the AEI’s description:

In 2001, John Donohue of Yale University and Steven Levitt of the University of Chicago published a paper entitled �The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime,� in which they argued that legalized abortion in the 1970s significantly contributed to decreased crime in America during the 1990s. The article sparked a fierce controversy which has yet to abate. The controversy further captured public attention when Levitt featured the argument in his bestselling book, Freakonomics. In this AEI event, nearly every economist who has studied whether there is a link between abortion and crime will weigh in on the available empirical evidence, including Professor Donohue and his leading critics. Is there a link between legalized abortion and crime rates? If so, in which direction is it?

The AEI has released the video of the event (click here, and find the video link on the right hand side of the page). For those unfamiliar with the host of theoretical and econometric issues involved, Jon Klick’s opening statement does a great job of setting up the terms of the debate in a manner that is quite accessible to all those who might be interested. I just finished watching the entire thing. There are some great presentations, and some interesting exchanges on this important issue. There are also some fireworks. If this is an issue you are interested in, go watch the video.

5 responses to The AEI Event on the Abortion and Crime Debate


    Matt, the answer to your first question is yes and it appears you mean the second to be rhetorical. I certainly cannot answer for the AEI.

    That said, Gordon’s comment along with some e-mails from readers interested in the abortion/ crime debate, but not trained in statistics at a level sufficient to follow the details of the discussion, has convinced me that it might be a service to some of our readers to summarize these issues. With this in mind, I plan a follow up post to at least summarize some of the issues surrounding the empirical debate.

    For those who want a quick primer on those issues, and prefer to get it from someone who actually has done empirical work regarding abortion access, Jon Klick’s opening statement from the AEI event ought to do the trick.


    Did the AIE let John Lott take part, and if so, do they just not care how bad that makes them look?


    No. But mostly because I have not yet read all of the responses and replies to the original Donohue and Levitt paper. Many of the issues are quite technical (appropriate clustering of standard errors, data issues, etc.) and require a sizeable investment of time that I am willing to admit I have not made into an area a bit outside my strike zone. The debate did convince me, however, that there is a good deal more life in this issue in terms of the theory, empirics, and improving the data, than I thought.

    I also learned that economists can be a bit snarky and dismissive of one another (Ok, I already knew that!). There are a few highlights in the Q&A session toward the end of the video that are definitely worth watching. Above all, this was a group of top notch economists, tangling with serious empirical challenges, regarding very emotionally charged social issues, in a generally admirable fashion.


    Josh, Did either side convince you?

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