The Decline of Abortion

The Inductivist posted a study from University-of-Memphis economists, which claims

the perceived threat of HIV lowered the rate of unwanted pregnancies and abortions. [Inductivist adds:] The PC strategy of scaring the hell out of heterosexuals turned out to be a good thing.

According to the CDC, 26.0% of the babies American women conceived in the 1980s were aborted. Today it is ~20%. [Another estimate puts the 1980s abortion toll at ~30%].

I believe I can refute the “HIV-Scare reduced abortion” thesis in 10 seconds or less, using two graphs. Observe —

Trends in Abortion in the USA. (Click to Expand).

In case you are blind, I will point out that crime and abortion rose and declined more-or-less together. Both are today at two-thirds their peaks of a generation or so ago.

Did “HIV fears” scare criminals into shaping up?

Absurd. So what else could be going on here?

Back to that in a second. First, here is the authors’ argument, summarized in graph form, taken from their paper.

The graph seems to prove its thesis without need for comment. But the graph is wrong. Whoever put together that graph for the economists did extremely sloppy work. As best I can tell, they mixed data from the “ratios” column with data from the “rate” column and multiplied the latter by 10! I have put together a graph, above, accurately showing the CDC data (table of the data here). The authors cite this their source but reproduce the data completely-inaccurately from 1990.

— Abortion peaked sometime in the 1980s (CDC says it was 1984), and began its slow decline to where it is now. We might pin the beginning of the descent at 1987. AIDS became something people worried about around 1990. AIDS fears in ’87 were like Swine Flu fears in summer ’09. People knew about it, and realized it “could” be a serious problem, and heard distant stories about people being sick, but it was not personal and did not affect day-to-day life. Maybe prostitutes in ’87 and nurses in hospitals in ’09 were worried, but the general peoeple, no. AIDS in 1987 was nothing two young lovebirds would particularly fear.

— Furthermore, there was a steady increase in the share of births to unmarried mothers in the early 1990s. If people were too terrified to have unprotected sex, as the authors posit, we’d have more likely seen a decline in unmarried-motherhood, or at least stagnancy.

— As the AIDS scare is long since over (in the sense of being the Panic it was circa 1990), what explains the ongoing decline in abortions? As the graph above shows, there never was a sharp fall in abortions, as one would expect if the “AIDS Panic” thesis were valid (and as it seems in the authors’ inaccurate graph). There has been a steady decline, but which began before AIDS was an issue!

Striking the Root
“There are a thousand hacking at the branches…for every one striking at the root.” –Thoreau

What caused the concurrent declines in abortion and crime?

A “broad cultural shift” in the USA seems the most robust possible explanation for concurrent declining crime and abortion. It is typical of economists to be unable to understand this.

(Update: The Hispanic factor to the abortion decline is briefly examined in a discussion in the comments.)

I don’t know how exactly to pin it down. Maybe someone reading this can help there.

One part of it was surely a rebellion against the ’60s. People didn’t want a wild ride anymore. The angry sociopolitical demagoguery of previous 20th-century generations was rejected. Generation-X — in prime “crime” and prime “abortion” years when the declines began in earnest (early ’90s) — was known as apathetic and mellow.

In a related sense, there is probably a “civilizational pride” factor here: Americans saw (but did not realize yet) that Communism was defeated already by the mid-1980s, when the “corner was turned” and abortion stopped growing. When Communism collapsed a few years later, pride swelled. A turn towards the life-affirming rather than cynical, nihilistic, selfishness. Then came an easy victory in the Gulf War. Good economic times rolled. And that brings us to the present, more or less.

Good Fortune
So perhaps crime and abortion decreased to roughly two-thirds their 1990 levels because of the victory of Capitalist Liberal Democracy in the Cold War.

But “victory” also implicitly endorsed a lot of the not-so-good things, which late-20th-century Capitalist Liberal Democracy brought along on its coattails: Fake economic growth based on pushing around paper and calling it wealth; aggressively-universalist “Multi-Kulti”-ism; the rise of social atomization and “anomie”; increasing acceptance of what was previously seen as degenerate; the decline of the family; imperial adventurism; expensive social-welfare programs [esp. in Europe].

As the Oriental proverb tells us, beware of good fortune.

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26 Responses to The Decline of Abortion

  1. hbd chick says:

    not quite ot, but did u c the figures for abortion rates in nyc?:

    “41% of NYC pregnancies end in abortion”

    60% of black pregnancies, 20% of white.


    • Hail says:

      I’d think a lot of the blacks in New York City are foreigners of limited education, hence they don’t use birth control as…rigorously as others.

    • Hail says:

      In 2002, black women in the USA aborted 33.1% of the babies they conceived. (Says CDC). White women aborted 14.1% of the babies they conceived.

      Black TFR is ~2.0, AFAIK.
      By my calculation, if blacks had the same abortion-ratio as whites, their TFR would be 2.66!

  2. Justin says:

    I would say cultural factors should also be considered. The pro-life movement did a bang up job raising awareness of the immorality of abortion, as well as providing a solid network of social support, such as crisis pregnancy centers.

    There is also the evolutionary possibility: non-maternal women are taking themselves out of the gene pool. The girls born in 1976, for example, to “moms by choice”, in other words, women who avoided both birth control and abortion, would by definition have a mom with a strong maternal instinct.

    Is it just coincidence that the first real drops in abortion occurred as the first generation born under the birth control and abortion regime came to sexual maturity?

    Of course, this is a cultural transmission as well as a biological one. The women who are “moms by choice” are also more likely to pass on to their daughters the love of being a mother, and possibly their moral abhorrence of abortion.

    • Hail says:

      The evolutionary idea is intriguing, but I’d think it’d require more than one generation to make a difference?

      To me the tie-in with crime rates is key. When I first saw the abortion rate graph, I said “That looks a lot the crime rate graph”. Sure enough they are about the same. (The basis of this post). This strongly suggests, to me, that there was something culture-wide going on, that can’t easily be reduced to the micro, i.e. “It is because of AIDS fears and contraception”. As crime and abortion are basically unrelated phenomena, there is no micro explanation for why both would mirror each other. The same thing applies to the Pro-Life Movement: It could not have reduced street crime. Is it a coincidence that these two unrelated things mirrored each other?

      Note: Both crime and abortion fell shortly after the Cold War ended.

  3. statsquatch says:

    Maybe the number of Catholic Hispanics, especially Mexicans, of childbearing age increased while the number of liberal whites decreased. Also, didn’t get a little harder to get an abortion with all the clinical bombings.
    But wow, that is a lot of abortions. Meisenberg claims that abortion is eugenic since it disproportionally affects people who are not very good at planning. So how do we get the numbers back up?

    • Hail says:

      Re whether the falling abortion rate could be a product of higher share of Hispanic mothers:

      %-of-Own-Babies-Aborted / Ethnic Group / [%-of-USA’s-Births]

      25.6% All Races
      20.3% Hispanics [14.7%]
      24.7% Whites
      37.4% Blacks

      2002 (excluding California — Did not report abortion totals after ’98)
      21.6% All Races
      20.2% Hispanics [17.7%]
      17.0% Whites
      34.9% Blacks
      Although the Hispanic rate has always been below the national average, clearly most of the downward movement has come from Whites. (Note that “White” above is not “White non-Hispanics”. In 2002 the “White non-Hispanic” rate would be even lower.) Also note: Hispanic births, when counting California, were 21.9% of the US total in 2002.

      [Sources: CDC #1 CDC #2.]

      • statsquatch says:

        Thanks. Some of the white drop may be due to a greater number of hispanic counted as white but I see your point.

      • Hail says:

        Well, if those numbers are right, then:
        In 1990 the “White” rate was depressed by white-Hispanics, but
        in 2002 the “White” rate was boosted by white-Hispanics.

        In other words, by the 2000s, if you remove all White non-Hispanic numbers from the count, the abortion ratio is a good deal higher.

        Declining abortion has been a “White non-Hispanic” phenomenon.

  4. IHTG says:

    Abortion is by nature a volatile phenomenon. Any culture that espouses abortion will eventually come to see unplanned pregnancy itself as declasse, obviating the need for abortion.

  5. Hail says:

    IHTG, so you’re saying in 1990 unplanned pregnancy was high, and today it is not. [I wouldn’t know where to look for data on what share of pregnancies are “unplanned”]. All else being equal, this would imply an overall fertility decrease.

    Yet the USA’s white non-Hispanic fertility rate has remained steady over the past twenty years. White non-Hispanic abortion has fallen to ~60% of its 1990-level, yet TFR has not moved.

    White Non-Hispanic TFR
    1.85 in 1990
    1.78 in 1995
    1.87 in 2000
    1.87 in 2005

  6. Pingback: USA’s Total Fertility Rates by Race, 1980-2008 | Hail To You

  7. Jehu says:

    How do the incarceration numbers play into this? I know that the increases in the prison population have a lot to do with lower crime rates and probably also decrease the abortion rate through reducing the fertility of criminals and those that mate with them.

  8. Hail says:

    RE Jehu,
    An interesting idea.

    Persons in prison or jail [% of U.S. population]
    1980: ..502,000 [0.22%]
    1993: 1,365,000 [0.53%]
    2006: 2,385,000 [0.80%]

    One possible criticism: Incarceration has risen steadily since 1980, yet it was the 1990s that saw crime rates plummet. Crime was as high in 1990 as it was in 1980. The peak year was 1991. A perfectly inverse relationship between incarceration and crime would imply that crime should have fallen more in the 1980s, right?

  9. Hail says:

    On incarceration and abortion:

    In a comment above it was shown that abortion rates fell by far the most for white non-Hispanics.

    In 1992, 0.4% of white men were in prison. In 2006, 0.7% were. [source]. It is beyond belief that those extra 0.3% of white males were responsible for such a large share of unwanted/aborted white pregnancies!

    Higher incarceration may explain a part of the decline we have seen, but there was clearly something else going on too.

  10. Silver says:

    A perfectly inverse relationship between incarceration and crime would imply that crime should have fallen more in the 1980s, right?

    Incarceration can’t take place before a crime is committed so I’m not sure it makes much sense to speak of a “perfectly inverse relationship.”

    The assumption is that incarceration keeps what would have been repeat offenders off the streets. Since that is self-evidently true the conclusion is that crime would have risen more during the 80s than it did had the number of felons released been greater.

    In any case the hypothesis that incarceration affects fertility is unrelated to incarceration’s role in crime reduction.

    Exploring that hypothesis, women 25 and older account for the majority of all live births, while women younger than 25 account for a majority of all abortions. Women likely to be associated with felons would tend to be younger. Therefore, incarcerating the males they would have mated with would tend to decrease the number of pregnancies to younger women and consequently the number of abortions they have; this in turn would mean that the ratio abortion to live births would also decrease.

    Could incarcerating .3% of all white males have such an effect? Assuming the number of white male is within the region of 200 million, .3% is 600,000 white males. If the birth rate for white women aged 15-25 were, say, 120 per 1000 white women in that cohort, then assuming 6 million white women in that cohort, the number of lives births attributable to it would be in the region of 700,000 and the accompanying number of abortions in the region of 200,000. Based on these figures, regardless of whether a relationship between abortion and incarceration actually exists or not, the number of incarcerated white males seems sufficient to be able to exert the requisite influence (ie lowering the ratio) on abortion trends.

    • Hail says:

      Silver, There could be some truth in saying incarceration affects abortion.

      Potential weaknesses:
      — Though I do not have the time to look into it right now, it’s my impression that a lot of the “new inmates” are doing drug-related time. Similar to comedian Tim Allen, who spent time in prison for dealing drugs in college (IIRC). If the “Tim Allen” archetype is representative of the new white inmates, then “Incarceration has reduced abortion” is a lot harder to buy. That type of man is hardly the “tough biker type”, or whatever, who would get some slutty girl pregnant then shove her into an abortion clinic!

      — The pesky fact that abortion decline has been a white phenomenon. There would be no post titled “The Decline of Abortion [in the USA]” without white-Americans. (Statistics on Race and Abortion, 1990 vs. 2002).

      Percent of MALES aged 25-29 imprisoned, by race [Sources: #1, #2
      1992: 7.21%
      2005: 11.96%

      1992: 2.84%
      2005: 3.89%

      1992: 0.84%
      2005: 1.68%

      These are substantial increases in share of males imprisoned, all across the board. If Jailing Thugs Reduces Abortion, why has the black abortion rate hardly moved?

      Finally, while I have these stats on hand: I see that share of females imprisoned has also jumped, and proportionally far higher than males. (Why is this?). It goes without saying that this is also significant to any abortion discussion:

      Percent of FEMALES aged 20-24 imprisoned, by race
      1992: 0.26%
      2005: 0.61%

      1992: 0.12%
      2005: 0.32%

      1992: 0.04%
      2005: 0.21%

      While interesting in itself, this rise in female imprisonment cannot possibly explain why white women would go from aborting 25% of pregnancies (1990) to aborting 17% (2002).

  11. Jehu says:

    Another thing to investigate is this:
    Women who have a lot of abortions (‘frequent flyers’ as they’re often called) experience reductions in fertility. Women with sexually transmitted diseases (a lot of overlap between these two sets) also become less fertile frequently. It’d be interesting to see what fraction of reduced abortion rates is simply the result of burnt out reproductive systems.

    • Hail says:

      The CDC’s Table 13 provides a snapshot of “recidivist-aborters”, but only for year 2002. For nearly one-in-five women who aborted in 2002, that was their third or more lifetime abortion. [For NYC, it was nearly one-in-three, for South-Dakota it was only 2%].

      Your idea is very interesting here, Jehu, but not easy to quantify. The ideal would be to find stats on “TFR for women who aborted their first pregnancy”; if it is substantially lower than the general TFR, then your speculation is perhaps vindicated. I doubt such data exists.

      Related: It was interesting to see the jump in female imprisonment. (See the end of this comment), many of whom probably would be those repeat-aborters. The numbers are too tiny to presume this explains very much of the Decline, though.

  12. Hail says:

    Justin, author of the interesting Truth Shall Set You Free blog, and one of the inspirations for this very post, has suggested that the decline in abortion could be

    Just a function of less young people, because of the declining number of births, post 1970.

    In other words: “Abortion patterns have not changed, but the number of young women has. Fewer young-women, fewer abortions.”

    — In favor of this theory: The average age of a woman upon abortion has gone significantly up (according to the CDC data). In the 1970s, only 35% of abortions were to women over-25; today about half are. This has tracks the rising average age at motherhood, from ~25 in the mid-1970s to over 28 for non-Hispanic whites today.

    — Against this theory: The normalized measures of abortion have both declined: Significantly down are both the abortion ratio (graphed above, [abortions]/[births+abortions]) and the abortion rate (abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44). In theory, these normalizations remove statistical distortion from smaller cohorts of women.

    — It is still possible that a low relative number of the youngest, most-abortion-likely women (under-25) could have “artificially” depressed both of the aforementioned normalized stats in the 1990s (those born after the ca.1970 TFR fall off). But such distortions would represent a dip in abortion ratios/rates until the numbers evened out, not an ongoing downward slide as we have seen. In other words, fertile-age women today are (almost) all born after 1970, so they are all drawn from the low-TFR times (unlike, e.g., the early 1990s, when younger-women were drawn from low-TFR times while women in their 30s were from high-TFR times), yet the abortion ratio and rate have still shown declines, and show no sign of recovering to previous levels.

    A little more investigation could elucidate things —

    Statistics on births and abortions 1980, 1990, 2002:
    Abortions to women under-25
    1980 (mother born 1956-’65): 840,000
    1990 (mother born 1966-’75): 795,000
    2002 (mother born 1978-’87): 435,000 [51.8% of ’80 level]

    Births to women under-25
    1980 (mother born 1956-’65): 1.79 million
    1990 (mother born 1966-’75): 1.63 million
    2002 (mother born 1978-’87): 1.49 million [83.5% of ’80 level]

    Percent of pregnancies aborted, mothers under-25
    1980 (mother born 1956-’65): 31.9%
    1990 (mother born 1966-’75): 32.8%
    2002 (mother born 1978-’87): 22.6%

    Abortions to women 25 or older
    1980: 458,000
    1990: 635,000
    2002: 419,000 [91.6% of ’80 level; 66.1% of ’90 level]

    Births to women 25 or older
    1980: 1.84 million
    1990: 2.53 million
    2002: 2.57 million [139.7% of ’80 level]

    Percent of pregnancies aborted, mothers 25-or-older
    1980: 19.9%
    1990: 20.1%
    2002: 14.0%
    Comments: No support for a strong version of this theory yet (that abortion has stayed the same while number of young women has declined), and no support for a modified version of the theory, which is that the abortion decline since 1990 has been purely because of changes in behavior of young-women: the percentage fall-off ’90-’02 is about the same among over-25s as among under-25s. (Both age-brackets are ~70% their 1990 rates).

    But as shown in another comment above, abortion decline has been a white phenomenon, and this is data for all races. So onward:
    Abortions to white women, all ages (incl. white Hispanics)
    1980: 907,000
    1990: 926,000
    2002: 474,000 [52.3% of ’80 level]

    Births to white women, all ages (incl. white Hispanics)
    1980: 2.94 million
    1990: 2.63 million
    2002: 2.27 million [77.2% of ’80 level]

    Percent of Pregnancies aborted, white women all ages (incl. white Hispanics)
    1980: 23.6%
    1990: 26.0%
    2002: 17.3%

    Unfortunately there is no way in the abortion data that I can see to sift out the historical data on whites by age-group. It is only by race or by age-group, not both. If someone could find that, it would be useful.

    [Sources: CDC “Abortion Surveillance” Table-1 and CDC birth tables]
    Comment: The way I read this data, there may be some effect of the smaller number born after ca.1970, but it cannot explain everything. Clearly there has also been a change in behavior/attitudes. Abortion has declined much more than have births.

    One could argue for a certain unquantifiable explanation at this point. That being: “the post-1970 fall in TFR has removed from the genepool more people likely to engage in abortion”. Hence the decline, which has been real, but not a result of changed attitudes/behavior, but rather because of a different stock of person than had existed before the TFR fall-off. This is similar to the theory that liberalism tends to breed itself out of existence. The problem with that theory is it should mean there should be no liberals on the planet, even today, because it’s not like such fertility patterns only began a decade ago. A simi8lar problem springs to mind if one takes this line on abortion.

  13. Justin says:

    Thanks for the detailed analysis, Hail. I would say the rate of abortion will, logically, continue to decline, rather than reach a stability level. Cultural factors as well as genetic factors are reinforcing here. As the women who abort fail to reproduce, each succeeding generation will continue to become more and more “pro-life”.

    If abortion is ever made illegal again, the gene pool would again be infiltrated with women who are, by nature, non-maternal, as they would be forced to bear their own offspring. Certainly this is a great irony of history.

    “Liberalism” is a large cultural, economic, and governmental phenomena, not necessarily tied to specific breeding patterns. The larger forces of technology are still pushing us in more liberal cultural directions. Not to mention the huge cultural weight behind the institutionalization of liberalism that begin in the early 20th century.

  14. Cleanthesbrule says:

    Internet porn and video games reduce the total number of copulations in the population. Both began their huge increase in popularity in the 1990s.

    Less sex means less pregnancy. Additionally, internet porn supposedly predisposes men to demand “icky” forms of sex that do not result in conception.

    • Hail says:

      The Internet was only capable of serving as a pornography network from year 2000 or so. So trends before then must have a different cause.

      It’s inevitable, unfortunately, that the rise of Internet pornography has warped millions of minds. Is it possible that there is a direct tie-in between it and the rise in unmarried-motherhood 2000-2010?

      Share of Births to Unmarried White Mothers, 1990s vs 2000s
      1992: 18.6%
      2000: 22.1%
      ’92-’00: +3.5%

      2000: 22.1%
      2008: 28.7%
      ’00-’08: +6.6%

      “The Age of Internet Porn” begins in year 2000; unmarried-motherhood takes off in the same year. I won’t argue for causation necessarily, but correlation is there.

      Video games are much longer-established, since the 1970s, but the kind of compulsive gaming I presume you’re alluding to probably began nearer to 2000, as well. (Right?). Go too far back and compulsive gaming was impossible because no one had an unlimited supply of quarters!

  15. Nick says:

    Where did you get the u.s crime rate chart? Just curious because it would be good for a paper i am writing 🙂

  16. Pingback: Western Civilizational Pride, 1986-1992 | Hail To You

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