Abortion Legalization and Child Living Circumstances: Who is the "Marginal Child?"
We estimate the impact of changes in abortion access in the early 1970s on the average living standards of cohorts born in those years. In particular, we address the selection inherent in the abortion decision: is the marginal child who is not born when abortion access increases more or less disadvantaged than the average child? Legalization of abortion in five states around 1970, followed by legalization nationwide due to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, generates natural variation which can be used to estimate the effect of abortion access. We find that cohorts born after abortion was legalized experienced a significant reduction in a number of adverse outcomes. Our estimates imply that the marginal child who was not born due to legalization would have been 70% more likely to live in a single parent family, 40% more likely to live in poverty, 50% more likely to receive welfare, and 35% more likely to die as an infant. These selection effects imply that the legalization of abortion saved the government over $14 billion in welfare expenditures through 1994.
Published: Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 114, no. 1 (1999): 263-291.