Abortion and Selection

Scholarly Edition

The introduction of legalized abortion in the early 1970s led to dramatic changes in fertility behavior. Some research has suggested as well that there were important impacts on cohort outcomes, but this literature has been limited and controversial. In this paper, we provide a framework for understanding the mechanisms through which abortion access affects cohort outcomes, and use that framework to both address inconsistent past methodological approaches, and provide evidence on the long-run impact on cohort characteristics. Our results provide convincing evidence that abortion legalization altered young adult outcomes through selection. In particular, we find evidence that lower costs of abortion led to improved outcomes in the birth cohort in the form of an increased likelihood of college graduation, lower rates of welfare use, and lower odds of being a single parent. We also find that our empirical innovations do not substantially alter earlier results regarding the relationship between abortion and crime, although most of that relationship appears to reflect cohort size effects rather than selection.

Cited Authors

  • Ananat, EO; Gruber, J; Levine, PB; Staiger, D