The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime over the Last Two Decades


Publish Date:
November 16, 2020
Publication Title:
American Law and Economics Review
Journal Article
  • John J. Donohue, Steven D. Levitt, The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime over the Last Two Decades, American Law and Economics Review (2020) (earlier versions available as NBER Working Paper No. w25863 (2019) HERE and at (also 2019) HERE).
Related Organization(s):


Donohue and Levitt (2001) presented evidence that the legalization of abortion in the early 1970s played an important role in the crime drop of the 1990s. That paper concluded with a strong out-of-sample prediction regarding the next two decades: “When a steady state is reached roughly twenty years from now, the impact of abortion will be roughly twice as great as the impact felt so far. Our results suggest that all else equal, legalized abortion will account for persistent declines of 1% a year in crime over the next two decades.” Estimating parallel specifications to the original paper, but using the seventeen years of data generated after that paper was written, we find strong support for the prediction and the broad hypothesis, while illuminating some previously unrecognized patterns of crime and arrests. We estimate that overall crime fell 17.5% from 1998 to 2014 due to legalized abortion— a decline of 1% per year. From 1991 to 2014, the violent and property crime rates each fell by 50%. Legalized abortion is estimated to have reduced violent crime by 47% and property crime by 33% over this period, and thus can explain most of the observed crime decline.