The controversial economics of abortion law

The controversial economics of abortion law

When economist Joshua Angrist was a young scholar in the mid-1990s, he saw a wrinkle in the history of abortion law that offered an opportunity for analysis. Before the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide with its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, a number of states had already done so. Professor Angrist, now on the faculty at MIT, saw an opportunity to examine the economic and social effects of abortion access by focusing on states that had legalized abortion in 1970 – Alaska, California, Hawaii, New York and Washington – and several others that had eased restrictions.

His article “Schooling and Labor Market Consequences of the 1970 State Abortion Reforms”, published in the book “Research in Labor Economics” in 2000, draws mixed conclusions. In states that were first to liberalize their laws, black women saw more than 4% declines in teen pregnancies and out-of-wedlock births, with associated increases in schooling and employment. White women didn’t see the same effects, however, and even for black women the benefits didn’t seem as powerful later, in states where abortion became legal with Roe.


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