Legalized Abortion and the Homicide of Young Children: An Empirical Investigation

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legalized abortion
young homicide
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Recent research has drawn a link, sometimes a causal link, between the legalization of abortion in the late 1960s and early 1970s and the precipitous decline in crime in the 1990s. Abortion is posited to have reduced the number of potential victims and potential perpetrators, and the potential effect is examined when these individuals would be reaching their high-crime years. We examined a more proximal potential association between legalized abortion and homicide, specifically, the homicide of young children. Assuming that abortions occurred when the family had insufficient resources for the birth, one could hypothesize that children would have been at higher risk of homicide if born into these circumstances. We examined 1960-1998 U.S. mortality data for children under 5 years of age using an interrupted time series design. The legalization of abortion was not associated with a sudden change in child homicide trends. It was, however, associated with a steady decrease in the homicides of toddlers (i.e., 1- to 4-year-olds) in subsequent years. Although in the predicted direction, the decrease in homicides of children under 1 year of age was not statistically significant. Competing explanations that could be examined in the data (e.g., changes in mortality classification) do not account for the findings.

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Postprint version. Published in Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, Volume 2, Issue 1, December 2002, pages 239-256. Publisher URL: NOTE: At the time of publication, authors Susan B. Sorenson and Richard A. Berk were affiliated with the University of California. Currently (August 2007), she is a faculty member in the School of Social Policy and Practice, and he is a faculty member in the Department of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania.
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