Thursday, March 17, 2011

Abortion and Crime Rate Part 1

Steve Sailer 2


Adam Houk who sent a statistical hypothesis debunking the myth that abortions lower crime rates sent a link that has a series of statistical analyses that demonstrates that the abortions lower crime rates economics statistician Steve Levitt’s stats were flawed. Levitt’s book entitled “Freakanomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” proclaims that statistics show surprising results on many held beliefs. One portion examined abortion and crime. He believes his statistics that abortion lowers the crime rate. The rebuttals to Levitt’s claim about abortion and crime are by Steve Sailer. The webpage shows Sailer’ debunking of Levitt’s claim about abortion was written in 2005.

Adam is excited that a more in depth statistical challenge exists that debunks the myth that abortions lower the crime rate. Adam says in his email with the link:

Wow I looked further into this and found a person that actually went into more detailed research than I.  He came up with the same exact conclusion even as far as stating that it was good moms that were more likely to have abortions and not bad moms.

So my speculation is no longer speculation there was actually studies that proved it.

JRH 3/17/11
Did Legalizing Abortion Cut Crime?

By Steve Sailer
Current blog: iSteve Blog

From December 2005...

Part 1: I'm Shocked, Shocked to See This...
The most celebrated nonfiction book of the year is Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by U. of Chicago superstar economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner. The most admired aspect of the book has been Levitt's theory that legalizing abortion cut the crime rate, which became Instant Conventional Wisdom. Now, it turns out, according to two economists at the Boston Fed who have checked Levitt's calculations in detail, that the abortion-cut-crime theory rested upon two mistakes Levitt made. So far, Levitt admits to making one error, saying it "is personally quite embarrassing."

Ever since my 1999 debate with Levitt in, Levitt's fans have been telling me that my simpleminded little graphs and ratios of national-level crime trends showing, for example, that the teen homicide rate tripled in the first cohort born after Roe v. Wade couldn't possibly be right because Levitt's econometric state-level analysis was so much more gloriously, glamorously, incomprehensibly complicated than mine, and Occam's Butterknife says that the guy with the most convoluted argument wins.

This fiasco reveals much about what's wrong with public policy discourse in modern America. Fifteen minutes of Googling would have shown book reviewers of Freakonomics that the abortion-cut-crime theory hadn't come close to meeting the burden of proof, but, instead, much of America's intellectual elite fell head over heels for this theory. Being largely innumerate and unenterprising, the punditariat is unable or unwilling to apply simple reality checks to complex models. It's easier to simply engage in intellectual hero-worship and take a guru figure like Levitt on faith. A few book reviewers, like James Q. Wilson (America's leading expert on crime for several decades), expressed deep skepticism, but most were negligent.

Now, two economists have redone Levitt's work and found two fatal flaws in it. The Economist has a good summary here:

Dec 1st 2005
Did Steven Levitt, author of “Freakonomics”, get his most notorious paper wrong?

And the Wall Street Journal reports:
"'Freakonomics' Abortion Research Is Faulted by a Pair of Economists
November 28, 2005; Page A2

" Prepare to be second-guessed.

“That would have been useful advice for Steven Levitt, the University of Chicago economist and author of the smash-hit book "Freakonomics," which uses statistics to explore the hidden truths of everything from corruption in sumo wrestling to the dangers of owning a swimming pool.

“The book's neon-orange cover title advises readers to "prepare to be dazzled," and its Sailer have lived up to the hype. A million copies of the book are in print. The book, which was written with New York Times writer Stephen Dubner, has been on the New York Times best-seller list for 31 weeks and is atop The Wall Street Journal's list of bestsellers in the business category.

“But now economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston are taking aim at the statistics behind one of Mr. Levitt's most controversial chapters. Mr. Levitt asserts there is a link between the legalization of abortion in the early 1970s and the drop in crime rates in the 1990s. Christopher Foote, a senior economist at the Boston Fed, and Christopher Goetz, a research assistant, say the research behind that conclusion is faulty.

“Long before he became a best-selling author, Mr. Levitt, 38 years old, had established a reputation among economists as a careful researcher who produced first-rate statistical studies on surprising subjects. In 2003, the American Economic Association named him the nation's best economist under 40, one of the most prestigious distinctions in the field. His abortion research was published in 2001 in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, an academic journal. (He was the subject of a page-one Wall Street Journal story1 in the same year.)

" The "Freakonomics" chapter on abortion grew out of statistical studies Mr. Levitt and a co-author, Yale Law School Prof. John Donohue, conducted on the subject. The theory: Unwanted children are more likely to become troubled adolescents, prone to crime and drug use, than are wanted children. When abortion was legalized in the 1970s, a whole generation of unwanted births were averted, leading to a drop in crime nearly two decades later when this phantom generation would have come of age.

"The Boston Fed's Mr. Foote says he spotted a missing formula in the programming of Mr. Levitt's original research. He argues the programming oversight made it difficult to pick up other factors that might have influenced crime rates during the 1980s and 1990s, like the crack wave that waxed and waned during that period. He also argues that in producing the research, Mr. Levitt should have counted arrests on a per-capita basis. Instead, he counted overall arrests. After he adjusted for both factors, Mr. Foote says, the abortion effect disappeared. [Emphasis mine.]

" "There are no statistical grounds for believing that the hypothetical youths who were aborted as fetuses would have been more likely to commit crimes had they reached maturity than the actual youths who developed from fetuses and carried to term," the authors assert in the report. Their work doesn't represent an official view of the Fed.

“Mr. Foote, 40, taught in Harvard's economics department between 1996 and 2002; served stints as an economist on the Council of Economic Advisers in 1994, 1995, 2002 and 2003; and served as an economic adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2003 and 2004.

“Mr. Levitt counters that Mr. Foote is looking only at a narrow subset of his overall work on abortion and crime, so his results are of limited value, and not grounds for dismissing the whole theory. He acknowledges the programming error, but says taken by itself, that error doesn't put much of a dent in his work. (Mr. Foote's result depends on changing that formula and on the adjustment for per-capita arrests.) Moreover, Mr. Levitt says the abortion theory has held up when examined in other countries, like Canada and Australia, and when applied to other subjects, like drug use.

““Does this change my mind on the issue? Absolutely not," Mr. Levitt says. [More]

Levitt and John J. Donohue put together their abortion-cut-crime theory in a quick and dirty fashion in late 1998. There's nothing wrong with that -- that's an inevitable aspect of hypothesis-generation. Unfortunately, when their draft paper leaked to the Chicago Tribune in August 1999, they hadn't yet done the needed reality checks on their idea.

For example, the peak years for serious violent crime by 12-17 year olds, as reported in the FBI's authoritative annual survey of crime victims were 1993 and 1994, or a couple of decades after Roe v. Wade made abortion legal nationally.

Their key assumption about how humans behave was that legalizing abortion increased the "wantedness" of babies who were actually born, yet one obvious test was whether Roe v. Wade had driven down the illegitimacy rate. As it turns out, it definitely had not. Fathers, at least, were certainly not "wanting" babies more after Roe.

The most striking fact about legalized abortion, but also the least discussed, is its sizable pointlessness. Legalized abortion turned out to be a lot like Homer Simpson's toast: "To alcohol! The cause of, and solution for, all of life's problems."

Legal abortion is a major cause of what it was supposed to cure -- unwanted pregnancies. Levitt himself notes that following Roe, "Conceptions rose by nearly 30 percent, but births actually fell by 6 percent …" So for every six fetuses aborted in the 1970s, five would never have been conceived except for Roe! This ratio makes a sick joke out of Levitt’s assumption that legalization made a significant difference in how "wanted" children were. Indeed, perhaps the increase in the number of women who got pregnant figuring they would get an abortion, but then were too drunk or drugged or distracted to get to the clinic has meant that the average quality of the upbringing of surviving babies has declined.

My guess would be that the existence legal abortion made condoms unfashionable in the 1970s. Jonathan Klick's study suggested that legalized abortion caused a sizable increase in infections with sexually transmitted diseases, which supports that hypothesis.

In our August 1999 debate in Slate, I pointed out to Levitt that the national-level homicide data easily available on federal government websites showed that his theory had radically failed the test of history: the first cohort born after the legalization of abortion had a homicide rate as 14-17 year olds triple that of the last cohort born before legalization.

Rather than expressing doubts about his signature theory, however, Levitt dug in his heels in and relied on his extremely complicated state-level analyses to try to intimidate readers into ignoring my easy-to-understand national-level analyses about whether he'd come anywhere near meeting the burden of proof.

Hey, it worked. He's now rich and famous.

I told Levitt last month during the Bill Bennett Brouhaha, in which the former Education Secretary was widely denounced for making a reductio ad absurdum argument based on the racial aspect of Levitt's theory, that he should just walk away now from his most famous theory -- just admit that it's too hard to tell what actually happened. Levitt's now a celebrity so he hardly needs his trademark theory anymore to go on being a celebrity (i.e., famous for being famous). Otherwise, someday, some little-known economist was going to make his reputation by taking the Freakonomist down. Well, Levitt's nemesis has arrived.

A reader writes:

Will this really matter? I guess I have my doubts. We have moved into an era when facts matter less than myths.

Indeed. Virtually nobody will admit they were wrong about this. Way too many important people have too much invested in Levitt's celebrity. This is a fiasco for the economics profession -- the most famous young economist's most famous theory has been exposed after six years of adulation as based on incompetence. I wonder how many economics professors have book proposals in right now for that next bestseller "Berserkonomics"? (By the way, Levitt and Dubner are working on a sequel with a title that reflects their characteristic elegant taste: Superfreakonomics.)

In the general media as well, too many influential people publicly endorsed the theory when a small amount of due diligence with Google would have shown them it was deeply dubious.

And too many people want his abortion-cut-crime theory to be true for personal or political reasons. I've noticed, for example, that in online discussions, pro-lifers tend to want Levitt's theory to be true. They appear to want to be able to boast, "Even though legal abortion reduces the likelihood of me being a victim of crime, I'm still against it. That's how idealistic I am."

The notion that somebody would want to know what the truth is, rather than just to find a talking point for their pre-existing policy prejudice is alien to American thinking today.

Here's the abstract of Foote and Goetz's paper:

Testing Economic Hypotheses with State-Level Data: A Comment on Donohue and Levitt (2001) [PDF - full paper]
Working Paper 05-15
by Christopher L. Foote and Christopher F. Goetz

State-level data are often used in the empirical research of both macroeconomists and microeconomists. Using data that follows states over time allows economists to hold constant a host of potentially confounding factors that might contaminate an assignment of cause and effect. A good example is a fascinating paper by Donohue and Levitt (2001, henceforth DL), which purports to show that hypothetical individuals resulting from aborted fetuses, had they been born and developed into youths, would have been more likely to commit crimes than youths resulting from fetuses carried to term. We revisit that paper, showing that the actual implementation of DL’s statistical test in their paper differed from what was described. (Specifically, controls for state-year effects were left out of their regression model.) We show that when DL’s key test is run as described and augmented with state-level population data, evidence for higher per capita criminal propensities among the youths who would have developed, had they not been aborted as fetuses, vanishes. Two lessons for empirical researchers are, first, that controls may impact results in ways that are hard to predict, and second, that these controls are probably not powerful enough to compensate for the omission of a key variable in the regression model. (Data and programs to support this comment are available on the web site of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.)

Levitt's reply on his Freakonomics blog is here.

All my posting on this issue are at
There are lots of charts and graphs in the string posts of posts link. To view them you’ll have to go to to search for the chart or graph you are seeking.

I am breaking Steve Sailer source link into several parts as I roll along. I am not certain how many actual parts there will be I may not follow Sailer’ pattern.

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