The Power of Abortion Policy

by on December 3, 2017 at 12:21 am in Data Source, Economics, Law, Medicine | Permalink

That is by by Caitlin Knowles Myers, and the full title is “The Power of Abortion Policy: Reexamining the Effects of Young Women’s Access to Reproductive Control.”  It is published in the most recent JPE, here is the abstract:

I provide new evidence on the relative “powers” of contraception and abortion policy in effecting the dramatic social transformations of the 1960s and 1970s. Trends in sexual behavior suggest that young women’s increased access to the birth control pill fueled the sexual revolution, but neither these trends nor difference-in-difference estimates support the view that this also led to substantial changes in family formation. Rather, the estimates robustly suggest that it was liberalized access to abortion that allowed large numbers of women to delay marriage and motherhood.

In other words, the pill was less influential than you might think.  And from the paper proper:

…policy environments in which abortion has legal and readily accessible by young women are estimated to have caused a 34 percent reduction in first births, a 19 percent reduction in first marriages, and a 63 percent reduction in “shotgun marriages” prior to age 19.

And:

Between the 1950 and 1955 birth cohorts, the fraction of women having sex prior to age 18 increased from 34 to 47 percent.

And:

…cohorts that experienced the most rapid changes in sexual behavior exhibited little change in fertility.

And:

Lahey (2014)…finds that the introduction of abortion restrictions in the nineteenth century increased birthrates by 4-12 percent…

I thought this was one of the most interesting papers I have read all year.  Here is an earlier, ungated copy.

1 clockwork_prior December 3, 2017 at 12:38 am

‘In other words, the pill was less influential than you might think.’

Well, apart from creating the situation where it was now women in charge of deciding whether to become pregnant, without requiring male cooperation.

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2 msgkings December 3, 2017 at 12:57 am

Come on man, even for you this is just so stupid. I don’t know if you have kids, but I had to cooperate to make mine (I’m a male).

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3 clockwork_test December 3, 2017 at 2:57 am

So, to be more explicit – a woman using the pill can quite easily conceal that use from a man, ensuring that the man’s input into pregnancy is irrelevant, without the man knowing that birth control is being used. Thus taking away a man’s ability to force a woman to become pregnant, regardless of what the woman feels about the issue.

Which just might explain why a certain group of people remain so steadfast in their opposition to women being able to use effective birth control.

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4 Shazam December 3, 2017 at 7:57 am

>a certain group of people remain so steadfast in their opposition to women being able to use effective birth control.

The completely imaginary ones in your head? We try not to focus on those out here in the real world.

And give me credit for being kind here — I’m assuming you are not one of those idiots who whines that if I won’t pay for YOUR birth control, that means I’m aghast if you buy your own. There is no chance you are one of those idiots, right?

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5 clockwork_prior December 3, 2017 at 8:21 am

The Catholic Church remains steadfastly opposed to birth control, for one. You have heard of the Catholic Church, right? An organization that does not allow women any position in its decision making hierarchy, hard as that might be to imagine, actually.

‘I’m assuming you are not one of those idiots who whines that if I won’t pay for YOUR birth control, that means I’m aghast if you buy your own’

I’m finding that extremely hard to parse, to be honest. But why would I care who pays for birth control, and why would I care that anyone uses whatever birth control they wish, regardless of who pays for it? I’m not that apparently imaginary figure called the ‘pope’ after all.

This remains interesting – when I thought it was obvious when talking about female use of birth control, that the context of ‘male cooperation’ in practicing birth control was obvious, I believed it equally obvious when talking about who controls whether a woman becomes pregnant or not, that it was clear that a number of people (mainly male, and not just the Catholic Church) remain of the opinion that women should not be allowed to prevent pregnancy. For example, because the woman might be having extramarital sex if the ‘penalty’ of pregnancy is no longer a barrier to her behavior.

6 clockwork_test December 3, 2017 at 3:02 am

And to clarify ‘without requiring male cooperation’ – male cooperation in using a condom or only have sex outside of the fertile period of a woman’s cycle or even attempting the not especially effective withdrawal technique. A point which probably should have been made more explicit too.

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7 Ralt Ight December 3, 2017 at 10:28 am

That’s you, but it would be unthinkable for any woman to say no to prior-approval. The pill is their only option.

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8 clockwork_prior December 3, 2017 at 11:26 am

To be honest, I wait to be asked before having sex with a woman the first time.. It has worked out well enough for me over decades, with no worries about ever being accused of sexual harassment, much less any other similar charge. Which considering the recent wave of well founded sexual harassment/assault/rape accusations makes me wonder how many men are even aware of how to follow such a simple way to start and enjoy a relationship with a woman – and also provides a disturbingly recent insight into why so many men seem so interested in always defending other men accused of harassment/assault/rape against ‘false accusations’. (Do note, however, that this insight does not in any way, shape, or form extend to changing the constitutional presumption of innocence when one is accused of a crime – that is another aspect of the Constitution that is one of crowning achievements found in human history, like the 1st Amendment.)

But personally, I am not that much a fan of hormonal birth control – it flattens a woman’s natural cycle, at least with all of the women I have had personal experience with when they were, and were not, using it. Of course, some women use hormonal birth control to deal with extremely irregular periods, but that is a separate subject, one that a surprising number of men seem to have zero awareness of when legislating health care.

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9 Ralt Ight December 3, 2017 at 12:35 pm

“To be honest, I wait to be asked before having sex with a woman the first time.. It has worked out well enough for me over decades, with no worries about ever being accused of sexual harassment, much less any other similar charge.”

I’m sure you’ve waited a long time.

“Which considering the recent wave of well founded sexual harassment/assault/rape accusations makes me wonder how many men are even aware of how to follow such a simple way to start and enjoy a relationship with a woman – and also provides a disturbingly recent insight into why so many men seem so interested in always defending other men accused of harassment/assault/rape against ‘false accusations’.”

As a alpha male who gets offers of sex from women all the time, I’m sure it will shock you to learn that “wait until women offer it” is a strategy for involuntary celibacy if adopted by ordinary men.(Just kidding, I’m sure you know that well.) And it’s not so much that the accusations are false as the fact that the accused behavior frequently isn’t wrong at all. We know feminism prohibits it, just as we know Judaism prohibits the eating of bacon, and we don’t care. It’s not our religion.

10 JSC7 December 3, 2017 at 1:09 am

Actually sperm donation didn’t become popular until the 80s.

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11 Ignacio December 3, 2017 at 1:10 am

Color me skeptical, but a siiilar evolution happened in Chile with respect to family formation (delay in marriage, fewer kids, kids without getting married) without having acces to abortion (only this year was abortion approved for three causes: fetal invisibility, threat to life of mother and rape).

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12 Ignacio December 3, 2017 at 1:12 am

And similar reduction in number of children.

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13 Enrique December 3, 2017 at 4:08 am

You may be right, but remember that enforcement has been weakening for a long time before the new law. Remember that the new law had been discussed for decades making clear that for many people access to abortion was increasing and more important that in principle the new law is still quite restrictive in facilitating access to abortion (the passing of the new law was intended to show the ruling coalition’s commitment to the values of a modern society –and I hope you know that their commitment is false). Never talk about law without making clear how it is enforced and how enforcement changes over time, particularly in Chile where most laws are poorly written and enforced and where enforcement is largely conditioned by politics and ineffective bureaucracies.

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14 A Truth Seeker December 3, 2017 at 6:51 am

“Between the 1950 and 1955 birth cohorts, the fraction of women having sex prior to age 18 increased from 34 to 47 percent.”

So that is what America has become: a place where teenagers have lots of sex.

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15 Shazam December 3, 2017 at 7:58 am

Yep. Just not with you.

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16 A Truth Seeker December 3, 2017 at 8:24 am

Unless they make sex through telepathy, it would be impossible anyway. Evnen if they did it, it would improbable because I am a decent person, not a sexual deviant.

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17 Captain Obvios December 3, 2017 at 6:57 am

file under: correlation is not causation ….

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18 clockwork_prior December 3, 2017 at 7:26 am

Pretty much, though the ungated version did point out that at least in the U.S., causation and correlation are hard to untangle – ‘The pill was a technological innovation in contraception, but with a failure rate of about 9 percent in the first year of typical use (Trussell, 2004), it still provides an imperfect means of preventing pregnancy. Trends in sexual behavior suggest that any reductions in unintended pregnancies among teens due to safer, pill-protected sex were offset by large increases in sexual activity.’

Of course, there has been considerable improvement in female birth control measures that do not require taking a pill every day (though some of the pills in a normal prescription are just there as placeholders, so as to ensure that a pill is taken once a day). On the other hand, that American number is an amazingly high failure rate compared to what I have seen in Germany over a quarter century..

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19 rayward December 3, 2017 at 6:59 am

I interpret this paper as debunking the popular myth that abortion is often used as a substitute for contraceptives; rather, abortion is the rarely used option to terminate the rarely occurring unplanned and unwanted pregnancy. I suspect that for the vast majority of women who have an abortion, it is such an unpleasant experience that they are far more cautious thereafter so as not to repeat it. The abortion option empowered women to avoid the life-changing event of a one-time unplanned and unwanted pregnancy.

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20 Noumenon72 December 3, 2017 at 8:51 am

It’s actually barely even a majority behaving as you suggest — 48% of abortions are to people who had one before, and 24% are to people who have had two before. source So it must not be that bad.

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21 dearieme December 3, 2017 at 7:03 am

“Trends in sexual behavior suggest that young women’s increased access to the birth control pill fueled the sexual revolution”: someone else who thinks you can infer a cause from a correlation.

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22 clockwork_prior December 3, 2017 at 7:32 am

Except that after widespread availability of the pill, women could have sex without having to depend on a man’s (generally inadequate to non-existent) cooperation in preventing pregnancy.

You have talked to a number of women concerning this subject, right?

Because for women, at least, the correlation of sexual intercourse as causation of pregnancy is not exactly obscure, and removing the causation of pregnancy from sexual intercourse is not exactly trivial from a female perspective in terms of behavior.

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23 chuck martel December 3, 2017 at 8:11 am

Humans, or at least some humans, must be the only organisms that choose not to reproduce, a negative in the Darwinian sense. This doesn’t seem to be based on any real moral consideration but instead on perceived personal economics and convenience. It’s just too much trouble to raise offspring to adulthood. Not everyone agrees with this line of thinking so the species will probably survive. Why anyone would care one way or the other is the real mystery. When you’re dead and gone you won’t be aware of fertility trends.

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24 Larkin December 3, 2017 at 11:24 am

anyway, we’re just a semi-amusing “ant-farm” for some vastly superior species out there in the multiverse

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25 Slugger December 3, 2017 at 2:48 pm

Technological man might be the only creature that needs to. A salmon hen carries 5000 eggs, a rat dam can easily drop 40 pups in one year, but we are not knee deep in those things. A human pair can hypothetically produce 6-8 children, but the growth of population from 4000BC to 1800AD was fairly slow. War, disease, and famine culled a substantial number. Technology has had a big impact. All over the world we see an initial population explosion followed by a return to less vigorous growth rates. Birth control measures return the growth rates to the same pace as it had been for thousands of years. Condoms or cholera? Your choice.

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26 shrikanthk December 3, 2017 at 8:21 am

More than policy, what has driven the breakdown of marriage and the proliferation of unwed pregnancies is the complete eradication of stigma around it.

I think the Christian establishment here must accept its failure. It has simply failed to regulate behavior. It has no hold on the lifestyle of the masses. Religion is dead in the western world.

And this has partly got to do with the nature of the Christian religion. Which is Golden rule based. And Golden rule based religions are not ambitious enough. They tolerate an “anything goes” culture as long as activities are consensual. There are no absolute standards of “good” and “bad”.

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27 A Truth Seeker December 3, 2017 at 8:31 am

Well, in India, what they call religion (demon-worshipping, actually — as St. Paul pointed out, the gods of the heathens are demons) rules absolute, which explains why India is India.

“There are no absolute standards of ‘good’ and ‘bad’.”

Such as sati, castes, cow-worshipping, lack of press freedom and other hallmarks of civilization.

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28 shrikanthk December 3, 2017 at 8:50 am

Looks like I touched upon a raw nerve.

Christianity today has been reduced to the “Golden rule”. So basically it is a libertarian “to each his own” mindset where anything goes. The early church fathers like St Augustine had great internal struggles each time they even masturbated, evident in the depth and intensity of works like Confessions.

Where has all that gone? The West today is just nominally Christian. There is no hold of religion on lifestyle. The only thing that constrains people is the rule of law. Not an internal soul force, or religious constitution

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29 A Truth Seeker December 3, 2017 at 9:01 am

“The West today is just nominally Christian. There is no hold of religion on lifestyle. “The only thing that constrains people is the rule of law.”

Yep, some peoples believe in the rule of law. Others not so much: https://www.news24.com/World/News/indian-police-officers-mocked-gang-rape-survivor-20171103

What you fail to see is that it is exactly internal soul force that prevents the West from being India. You just do not recognize such soul firce because it does not mix well with worshipping cows and demons. As far as I know, St. Augustine did not worship cows.

I wonder if India will ever make something out of itself or will just waste another century blaming the West.

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30 Marian Kechlibar December 5, 2017 at 3:11 am

“Religion is dead in the western world.”

Christianity is. But I can think of another religion that is uncomfortably alive and growing these days in the western world.

Although, to be precise, the particular spots on map of Europe where this another religion has majority presence, can probably no longer be counted towards the western world anymore.

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31 Evans_KY December 3, 2017 at 8:41 am

Very interesting read. Considering 1995 was the last year included, I would like to see how policy changes (healthcare and abortion access), Plan B (OTC availability), and modern birth control (injectables, ring, patch, continuous active dose) would alter the author’s findings.

“Lahey (2014)…finds that the introduction of abortion restrictions in the nineteenth century increased birthrates by 4-12 percent…”

A very patriarchal approach to increasing fertility. Perhaps women could be induced to have more children if we enacted better workplace leave policies for parents, increase EITC or comparable alternatives, and cease the demonization of women who “have babies to live on the dole”.

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32 clockwork_prior December 3, 2017 at 9:06 am

I thought that most people were aware that oral contraceptive pills could be used as ‘plan B’ – and that the approval process for Plan B in the U.S. was quite drawn out, compared to the simplicity of using what was likely already available for a woman (depending on various circumstances, of course). This was one of the things that made the Plan B discussions so absurd at the time, actually..

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33 Bill December 3, 2017 at 8:58 am

These papers are irrelevant to those who have theological beliefs.

Unfortunately, they wish to impose them on you.

And, maybe next election, they will get a tax deduction for their speech and you won’t.

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34 Todd December 3, 2017 at 9:27 am

I refuse to bake a cake for pay to help celebrate this comment. I am not a crackpot.

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35 A Truth Seeker December 3, 2017 at 9:32 am

Is it a gay cake? Will it make gay people who eat it?

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36 Bill December 3, 2017 at 10:58 am

I am subsidizing your Holy Communion cake with a political endorsement as icing on the top.

All you Libertarians will rue the day when deductible religious contributions are used to organize the churchgoers against your Libertarian candidates.

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37 A Truth Seeker December 3, 2017 at 11:12 am

So that is what America has become: a house divided against itelf.

38 Art Deco December 3, 2017 at 6:03 pm

Unfortunately, they wish to impose them on you.

The law will reflect someone’s ‘theological beliefs’. We’re better off when the ‘beliefs’ in question don’t provide cover for dismantling children in utero or soaking them in caustic brine.

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39 Dallas December 3, 2017 at 10:18 am

This is probably a false view of reality. If you do an analysis of an N-variable problem using N-x variables (aka dimensions), you get a totally incorrect understanding of the whole issue. Think back to your high school geometry study of “conic sections” where the 3-D cone can “appear” as multiple other 2-D objects from a point to a parabola. Given any of these totally mathematically accurate objects, you have zero understanding of the cone they are part of without including the third dimension as a variable in your analysis.

During the time period covered in this analysis, I was alive and observed a lot of other relevant variables that weren’t mentioned let alone included. In this time period, we had as a response to race riots a massive increase in benefits to unwed mothers resulting in a falling “shotgun” marriages. In California, the legalization of abortion may not have changed the actual abortion rate at all but did change the statistics as it shut down the over the Border Doctors in Mexico (the existence and size of this industry were well known to those of us who were teenagers in the 50’s). The only thing that showed up in the statistics was a huge decrease in backyard abortion bad outcome results, but we don’t know the % of bad outcomes and have no idea how many “illegal abortions” were occurring with successful outcomes (it is not brain surgery).

The Mexico/illegal type of variable is a totally statistically “unseen” dimension and I can understand an economist, not including it, however, these authors didn’t include the dramatic welfare changes of the 60’s where benefits were lost if there was a “man” in the household, where such an addition may destroy their “statistical significance”.

Playing this dimensional game is just a fancy way of being a political lier under of guise of being “scientific”. Remember, we have “lies, damn lies and statistics”.

PS: This is a common game in “regulatory science” used to calculate impacts that aren’t real. Bird predation of endangered fish ranging from salmon to delta smelt is seldom mentioned when looking at a time period that includes the elimination of DDT that was killing off the fish-eating birds. Endangered birds eating endangered fish can’t justify taking control (effective ownership) over billions of dollars worth of water and power (dams) so leave out a variable and improve your p-value on your statistics.

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40 tjamesjones December 4, 2017 at 4:47 am

the paper was subtitled “Reexamining the Effects of Young Women’s Access to Reproductive Control”

I think the author’s probably had their conclusions before they started on the journey.

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41 collin December 3, 2017 at 12:39 pm

OK…We get it libertarians want the return to local conservative society and local religious institutions.

But local society had to have more local economics and limited movement of elite money in which you dont like.

You can’t have both! So people are adjusting by putting off families and children.

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