When it comes to crime, economists focus on deterrence. Deterrence works but it’s not the only thing that works. Simple things like better street lighting can reduce crime as can high-quality early education or psychological interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy. The sociological literature has emphasized that crime is about preferences as well as constraints. Life-events or turning points such as marriage and childbirth, for example, can greatly change crime preferences. The sociological literature is mostly from case studies but in an excellent new paper, Family Formation and Crime, Maxim Massenkoff and Evan Rose (both on the job market from Berkeley) demonstrate these insights in a huge dataset.
A big part of what makes their paper compelling is that almost all of the results are blindingly clear in the raw data or using simple analysis. Here, for example, is the crime rate for women (drug, DUI, economic, or property destruction crimes) in the years before pregnancy, during pregnancy (between the red dotted lines) and after birth. Crime rates fall dramatically with pregnancy and in the three years after birth they are 50% lower on average than in the years before pregnancy.
Pregnancy imposes some physical limits on women but the effects are also very large for men whose crime rates fall by 25-30% during pregnancy of their partner and continue at that lower rate for years afterwards. Keep in mind that in our paper on three strikes, Helland and I found that the prospect of an additional twenty years to life (!) reduce criminal recidivism by just ~17%, so the effect of pregnancy is astoundingly large.
It’s not obvious what the policy implications are. Have children at a younger age doesn’t sound quite right, although in an analysis on teen births Massenkoff and Rose do indeed show that whatever the costs of teen pregnancy there are some offsetting benefits in reduced crime of the parents. More generally, however, there are policy implication if we think beyond the immediate results. First, these results show that crime isn’t simply a product of family background, poverty and neglect. Crime is a choice.
In Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City, Edin and Nelson relay the following anecdote (quoted in Massenkoff and Rose):
Upon hearing the news that the woman they are “with” is expecting, men such as Byron are suddenly transformed. This part-time cab driver and sometime weed dealer almost immediately secured a city job in the sanitation department (p. 36).
Byron chose to change and he did so based on the rational expectation of a future event. Massnekoff’s and Rose show that these choices are common.
Instead of thinking of these results as being about pregnancy and marriage we should ask what is it about pregnancy and marriage that makes people reduce crime? Love, responsibility and long-run thinking are all at play. In economic terms, pregnancy reduces discount rates and gives men and women a reason to invest in human capital and work for the future. Children and marriage play a large role in socializing and “civilizing” both men and women but they surely can’t be the only such factors. Indeed, although men and women on average reduce their crime rates dramatically on pregnancy this is mostly coming from men and women who had high rates to begin with–there are plenty of men and women who don’t much reduce their crime rates on pregnancy because they were already low–in a way, these men and women were pre-socialized so how do we extend the benefits of pregnancy to the expectation of pregnancy or how can we widen the effect to other factors that can also civilize?
The first home pregnancy tests were controversial because it was believed that women could not be trusted to do the tests correctly or to use the results appropriately:
NYTimes: When a mail-order New York firm tried to sell Organon test kits to American consumers in 1971, it faced opposition from the United States Public Health Service. In 1973, a New Jersey drugstore bought kits made by the drug company Roche and offered fast and private tests to their customers, and though the technology was similar to that available in medical clinics, the state medical examiner questioned the legality of the service.
Why so much opposition? Some regulators worried that “frightened 13-year-olds” would be the main users of the test kits. But after the product did become available in the United States in 1977, it appealed instead to college-age and married women — many of whom desperately hoped for children.
Even so, the Texas Medical Association warned that women who used a home test might neglect prenatal care. An article in this newspaper in 1978 quoted a doctor who said customers “have a hard time following even relatively simple instructions,” and questioned their ability to accurately administer home tests. The next year, an article in The Indiana Evening Gazette in Pennsylvania made almost the same claim: Women use the products “in a state of emotional anxiety” that prevents them from following “the simplest instructions.”
The tale of the home pregnancy test is not unique. Breakthroughs that give patients control over their bodies are often resisted. Again and again, the same questions come up: Are patients smart enough? Can they handle bad news? And do they have the right to private information about their bodies?
I wrote about these issues in Our DNA, Our Selves which discussed the FDA’s unconstitutional over-regulation of DNA tests. The legal questions in that case are yet to be fully resolved but the technology is pushing towards the freedom to know our own bodies.
The latest, uh, must-have appears to be positive pregnancy test results.
Women across the country are selling — and buying — them on Craigslist.
One post from Buffalo, New York, sums up the appeal for potential shoppers:
“Wanna get your boyfriend to finally pop the question? Play a trick on Mom, Dad or one of your friends? I really don’t care what you use it for.”
That particular test was going for the reasonable rate of $25 dollars. The tests in Texas seem to be slightly more expensive, at $30 a pop.
From Anemona Hartecollis, here are some interesting points:
Agencies prefer to contract with surrogates who are married with children, because they have a proven ability to have a healthy baby and are less likely to have second thoughts about giving up the child.
Conversely, gay couples are popular among surrogates. “Most of my surrogates want same-sex couples,” said Darlene Pinkerton, the owner of A Perfect Match, the agency in San Diego that Mr. Hoylman used. Women unable to become pregnant often go through feelings of jealousy and loss, she said. But with gay men, that is not part of the dynamic, so “the experience is really positive for the surrogate.”
Or as her husband, Tom, a third-party reproductive lawyer, put it, “Imagine instead of just having one husband doting on you, you have three guys now sending you flowers.”
The piece is interesting throughout.
Since 1991 the teenage pregnancy rate has fallen by about 22 percent, reversing a 40 year trend. In a lengthy story, the NYTimes suggests that learning from the hard experience of others is the explanation for the drop without explaining why it should take 40 years for this learning to take effect. They do note “teenage pregnancy had already begun its decline in 1991, well before welfare changes and the economic boom, and well after the first round of sex education programs.” The Times, however, does not examine the most controversial but well-supported explanation, the introduction of legalized abortion in the 1970s.
If this explanation rings familiar it should. In a very controversial paper, Steve Levitt and John Donohue provided evidence that legalized abortion in the 1970s reduced crime some 18 years later. The theory is simple. Abortion rates are higher among the poor, the unmarried, teenagers, and African Americans than among other groups and children born to mothers with several of the preceeding characteristics are at increased risk for becoming involved in crime. Legalized abortion gave these mothers an option and thus reduced the number of at-risk children who might otherwise have grown up to become criminals (note that abortion doesn’t mean fewer children per-se, it may simply delay childbearing to when the mother is not poor, a teenager or unmarried which works just as well.)
In brief, the evidence for the Levitt-Donohue theory is a) the timing is consistent, b) states that legalized earlier had earlier drops in crimes, c) there is a dose-response effect i.e. states that had more abortions had bigger drops in crime, d) the drop in crime in the 1990s occured among those cohorts who were potentially affected by abortion policy in the 1970s (and not among say 40 years olds.)
Joined by co-author Jeff Grogger, Levitt and Donohue apply the same idea to teenage pregnancy and find very similar results – thus reinforcing their earlier story. They write:
Parents who are least able or willing to begin caring for a newborn are most likely to make use of abortion. The abortion rates for teens, the unmarried, and the poor are substantially higher than for the general population. Children who are born unwanted are subjected to poorer care both during pregnancy and the early years of life. With the legalization of abortion, mothers with unwanted pregnancies suddenly had a new recourse. Consequently, the number of children raised in adverse environments dropped substantially. Donohue and Levitt  showed how this change reduced crime among the subsequent generation by 15-25 percent. As teen childbearing is a closely associate social pathogen, the magnitude of the drop should be similar.
Our empirical evidence suggests that birth rates as teens are strongly negatively associated with being born in a state and time period in which abortion rates were high. Our results suggest that teen birth rates today may be 20 percent lower as a consequence of legalized abortion in the 1970’s.
This has been bothering me, so I’m putting it out there – The shift to 6 yrs for an Econ PhD is a TERRIBLE trend for female PhD students – & also some men, obviously – but especially for women. This issue warrants much more attention.
So says the wise Melissa S. Kearney.
Along those lines, I have a modest proposal. Eliminate the economics Ph.D, period. Offer everyone three years of graduate economics education, and no more (with a clock reset allowed for pregnancy). Did Smith, Keynes, or Hayek have an economics Ph.D? This way, no one will assume you know what you are talking about, and the underlying message is that economics learning is lifelong.
After the three years is up, you would be free to look for a job, or alternatively you might find someone to support you to do additional research, such as in the newly structured “post doc without the doc.” The researchers who absolutely need additional training would try to glom on to a lab or major grant, but six years would not be the default.
Of course, in that setting, schools could take chances on more students, and more students could take a chance on trying economics as a profession. Furthermore, for most of the most accomplished students, it is already clear they deserve a top job by the time their third year rolls around, usually well before then. Women would hit their tenure clocks much earlier, also, easing childbearing constraints. A dissertation truly would become just a job market paper, which has already been the trend for a long time. Why obsess over the non-convexity of “finishing”? Finish everyone, and throw them into the maws of some mix of AI and human evaluators sooner rather than later.
Over time, I would expect that more people would take the first-year sequence in their senior year of undergraduate study, and more first-year jobs would have zero or very low teaching loads. All to the better.
And if you’re mainly going to teach Principles at a state university, three years of graduate study really is enough. You’ll learn more your first year teaching anyway.
Which other fields might benefit from such a reform?
People, you have nothing to lose but your chains.
The men were allowed to come on deck night and day if they wished, but it was the rule to whip the Negro men if they went in the hold with the women. Aboard the Creole, sex was apparently (and, it turned out, wrong) deemed a greater threat than slave rebellion. Gonorrhea, according to slaveholding commonplace, was a disease “generally contracted among Negroes en route who are brought for sale.” A number of different traders had their slaves aboard the ship, and segregating them by sex was a way to keep one slaveholder’s slaves from diminishing the value of another’s by passing a disease — or starting a pregnancy.
That is from Walter Johnson, Soul By Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market.
…modest genetic selection/concentration was evident for teen pregnancy and poor educational outcomes, suggesting that neighbourhood effects for these outcomes should be interpreted with care.
Findings argue against genetic selection/concentration as an explanation for neighbourhood gradients in obesity and mental health problems.
Here is the full piece, via K.
I will be doing a Conversation with her, here is her home page:
Professor of Philosophy and Senior Research Scholar in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University
Also: amateur powerlifter and boxer and certified sommelier
I live in the middle of Washington, DC, with my 13-year-old son Eli and my two Portal-themed cats, Chell and Cube. My research focuses on social epistemology, philosophy of medicine, and philosophy of language.
This interview is an excellent entry point into her thought and life, here is an excerpt from the introduction:
[Rebecca] talks about traveling the world with her nomadic parents, her father who was a holocaust survivor and philosopher, hearing the Dream argument in lieu of bedtime stories, chaotic exposure to religion, getting a job at and apartment at the age of 14, the queerness of Toronto, meeting John Waters and Cronenberg, her brother who is the world’s first openly transgender ordained rabbi, getting into ballet, combating an eating disorder, the importance of chosen family, co-authoring an article with her dad, developing an interest in philosophy of mathematics, the affordability of college in Canada, taking care of a disabled, dramatically uninsured loved one, going to University of Pitt for grad school, dealing with aggravated depression, working with Brandom, McDowell, the continental/analytic distinction, history of philosophy, how feminism and women—such as Tamara Horowitz, Annette Baier, and Jennifer Whiting–were treated at Pitt, coping with harassment from a member of the department, impostor syndrome, Dan Dennett and ‘freeedom’, her sweet first gig (in Vermont), dining with Bernie Sanders, spending a bad couple of years in Oregon, having a child, September 11th, securing tenure and becoming discontent at Carleton University, toying with the idea of becoming a wine importer, taking a sabbatical at Georgetown University which rekindled her love of philosophy, working on the pragmatics of language with Mark Lance, Mass Hysteria and the culture of pregnancy, how parenting informs her philosophy, moving to South Florida and the quirkiness of Tampa, getting an MA in Geography, science, philosophy and urban spaces, boxing, starting a group for people pursuing non-monogamous relationships, developing a course on Bojack Horseman, her current beau, Die Antwoord, Kendrick, Trump, and what she would do if she were queen of the world…
And from the interview itself:
I suspect that I’m basically unmentorable. I am self-destructively independent and stubborn, and deeply resentful of any attempt to control or patronize me, even when that’s not really a fair assessment of what is going on.
So what should I ask her?
2. Commuting by bicycle in the U.S. is down since 2014. The post also considers why.
4. Eighth-graders can in fact contribute to science (short video on listeria).
Many of you are asking my opinion of what happened. I’d like to answer a slightly different question. As you may know, America does in fact (partially) restrict a woman’s right to an abortion beyond a certain stage of her pregnancy. I believe Roe vs. Wade specified up until the 22nd to 24th week for the relevant right, and as of a few years ago eleven states had imposed legal restrictions.
I believe I have never read a piece, much less a good piece, on how these restrictions are enforced in practice, and what happens when such laws are broken. I’ve also never read a good piece, from any point of view, on how these laws should be enforced, given that a particular law is in place (I have read pieces on what the laws should be).
My suggestion is this: do not focus your emotional energies toward revaluing Kevin Williamson or The Atlantic. Ask yourself what are the relevant topics you have yet to read good pieces on, and then try to find them and read them. Over time, your broader opinions will then evolve in better directions than if you focus on having an immediate emotional reaction to the events right before your eyes. The more tempted you are to judge, the higher the return from trying to read something factual and substantive instead.
1. Charles Wohlforth and Amanda R. Hendrix, Beyond Earth; Our Path to a New Home in the Planets. The core claim is that humans can (will?) colonize Titan, the moon of Saturn. But what are we to make of sentences such as: “The temperature is around -180 Celsius (-290 Fahrenheit), but clothing with thick insulation or heating elements would keep you comfortable. A rip wouldn’t kill you as long as you didn’t freeze.” Pregnancy would be tricky too.
2. Ian Thomson, Primo Levi. One of my favorite literary biographies, ever. This is also a first-rate look at the history of the Holocaust, and the postwar Italian literary world. Definitely recommended.
3. Philippe Girard, Toussaint Louverture. One of the best and most readable treatments of the Haitian revolution, with a focus on Louverture of course. Here is one good bit:
When it came time to pick between two extremes — slavery and unfettered freedom — Louverture stopped well short of the latter. By order of General Louverture, all former field slaves, even those who had settled in urban areas during the Revolution, would return to their original plantations, sometimes under their former masters. Those who refused would be “arrested and punished as severely as soldiers,” which implied that plantation runaways could be shot as deserters. He thereby merged the two worlds he knew best — the sugar plantation and the army camp — into a kind of military-agricultural complex.
According to many critics at the time, rebel leaders were in essence confiscating the slave plantations of their former white masters. Furthermore, the importation of laborers from Africa was to continue.
4. Lewis Glinert, The Story of Hebrew, delivers exactly what it promises: “For many young Israelis, Arial is virtually the only font they read.”
Also in various stages of undress are:
Jeffrey D. Sachs, Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable, foreword by Bernie Sanders.
Niall Kishtainy, A Little History of Economics, a modern-day Heilbroner.
Johan Norberg, Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future, a Julian Simon-esque take on the case for optimism.
45 Years, British drama about a creaky marriage.
The Boy & the World. A Brazilian animated movie, it actually fits the cliche “unlike any movie you’ve seen before.” Preview here, other links here, good for niños but not only. Excellent soundtrack by Nana Vasconcelos.
The Second Mother. A Brazilian comedy of manners about social and economic inequality, as reflected in the relations between a maid, her visiting daughter, and the maid’s employer family. Now, to my and maybe your ears that sounds like poison, because “X is about inequality” correlates strongly with “X is not very good,” I am sorry to say. This movie is the exception, subtle throughout, and you can watch and enjoy it from any political point of view. It helps to know a bit about Brazil, and it takes about twenty minutes for the core plot to get off the ground. Links here.
Cemetery of Splendor, Thai movie by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, here is a good review.
City of Gold, a documentary with Jonathan Gold doing the ethnic food thing in Los Angeles.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an original movie, mostly about race, full of cinematic allusions (LOTR, First Blood, Smash Palace, classic Westerns, Butch Cassidy, Thelma and Louise, so many more) and Kiwi finery as well. None of the reviews I read seem to get it and I don’t want to send you to any of them.
The Innocents, how did those Polish nuns get pregnant?
Maggie’s Plan, a fun comedy, not at the top of this list but intelligent comedies are a dwindling species.
Ixcanul, a Mayan movie from Guatemala, might this story of an unwanted pregnancy be this year’s best movie? Here is one useful review.
Sausage Party, beyond politically incorrect, I kept on thinking I would get sick of the stupid animation and yet I never did. I remain surprised they let this one play in mainstream theaters.
Sully. He should have turned the plane around immediately under any plausible calculus, and he didn’t, so you have to give this movie the Straussian reading.
Weiner is a splendid movie with many subtle points, including in the philosophical direction. In another life, Huma Abedin could have been a movie star. She has exactly the right mix of distance and involvement, and she dominates every scene she is in, even when just sitting quietly in the background. Um…I guess she is a movie star. Starlet. Whatever.
Difret, an Ethiopian legal drama.
Andrei Tarkovsky, Ivan’s Childhood (reissue). This is one of Tarkovsky’s worst movies, and yet one of the best movies in virtually any year.
The Handmaiden, by Park Chan-wook. Imperfectly eroticized violence, but beautiful nonetheless.
Elle, by Paul Verhoeven.
Nocturnal Animals, by Tom Ford.
The bottom line
My top picks are Ixcanul, American Honey, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Cemetery of Splendor, and Sky Ladder, with Arrival being the best mainstream Hollywood movie.
That is the paper’s subtitle, the title is “Midpregnancy marriage and divorce,” and the authors are
Conventional wisdom holds that births following the colloquially termed “shotgun marriage”—that is, births to parents who married between conception and the birth—are nearing obsolescence. To investigate trends in shotgun marriage, we matched North Carolina administrative data on nearly 800,000 first births among white and black mothers to marriage and divorce records. We found that among married births, midpregnancy-married births (our preferred term for shotgun-married births) have been relatively stable at about 10 % over the past quarter-century while increasing substantially for vulnerable population subgroups. In 2012, among black and white less-educated and younger women, midpregnancy-married births accounted for approximately 20 % to 25 % of married first births. The increasing representation of midpregnancy-married births among married births raises concerns about well-being among at-risk families because midpregnancy marriages may be quite fragile. Our analysis revealed, however, that midpregnancy marriages were more likely to dissolve only among more advantaged groups. Of those groups considered to be most at risk of divorce—namely, black women with lower levels of education and who were younger—midpregnancy marriages had the same or lower likelihood of divorce as preconception marriages. Our results suggest an overlooked resiliency in a type of marriage that has only increased in salience.