Abortion Legalization and Child Living Circumstances: Who is the "Marginal Child?"

Jonathan Gruber, Phillip Levine, Douglas Staiger

NBER Working Paper No. 6034
Issued in May 1997
NBER Program(s):Children, Health Care, Labor Studies

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.

download in pdf format
   (347 K)

email paper

The NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health provides summaries of publications like this.  You can sign up to receive the NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health by email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w6034

Published: J. Gruber & P. Levine & D. Staiger, 1999. "Abortion Legalization and Child Living Circumstances: Who is the "Marginal Child"?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol 114(1), pages 263-291. citation courtesy of

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Ananat, Gruber, Levine, and Staiger w12150 Abortion and Selection
Donohue and Levitt w8004 The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime
Angrist and Evans w5406 Schooling and Labor Market Consequences of the 1970 State Abortion Reforms
Joyce w15098 Abortion and Crime: A Review
Ananat, Gruber, and Levine w10705 Abortion Legalization and Lifecycle Fertility
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us