The Effect of Anti-Abortion Legislation on Nineteenth Century Fertility

Abstract

Using nineteenth century legal information combined with census information, I examine the effect of state laws that restricted American women’s access to abortion on the ratio of children to women. I estimate an increase in the birthrate of 4 % to 12 % when abortion is restricted. In the absence of anti-abortion laws, fertility would have been 5 % to 12 % lower in the early twentieth century.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The interpolation formula is (A + 8B – C) / 16, where A is the 30–39 cohort, B is 40–49, and C is 50–59.

  2. 2.

    The entire set of citations for these data is not included for brevity’s sake. An example of the basic format of these citations can be found in the entry for the U.S. Census Bureau (2012) in the reference list.

  3. 3.

    None of the controls listed significantly predict the passage of a law within the next decade using Eq. (1) and law passage as a dependent variable.

  4. 4.

    Charts and tables examining the nonlinearity of the post period (available from the author) suggest this latter explanation may be correct but are not conclusive given the fragility of the data and the length of the period studied.

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Acknowledgments

Thanks to Elizabeth Ananat, Martha Bailey, Dora L. Costa, Laura Dague, Claudia Goldin, J. David Hacker, Michael Haines, Ann McCants, Bob Margo, Karen Norberg, and Lori Taylor for helpful discussions; Michael Haines for assistance with census tables; and state law librarians in many states for assistance with historical abortion laws. Thanks also to seminar participants at APPAM, the University of California at Riverside, the University of Kansas, the NBER Development of the American Economy, Northwestern University, Pomona College, and SSHA; to Jillian Boles, Alejandro Bras, Erin Harrison, Rebecca Willis, and YiDing Yu for excellent research assistance; and to M. Rose Barlow and Mary Cozad for comments. Finally, thanks to three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. The author thanks the National Institute on Aging NBER Grant # T32-AG00186 for funding and support.

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Correspondence to Joanna N. Lahey.

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Lahey, J.N. The Effect of Anti-Abortion Legislation on Nineteenth Century Fertility. Demography 51, 939–948 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-014-0293-x

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Keywords

  • Nineteenth century
  • Abortion
  • Fertility
  • Demographic transition
  • Fertility control