Unwanted Fertility, Contraceptive Technology and Crime: Exploiting a Natural Experiment in Access to the Pill

Juan Pantano, University of California, Los Angeles

Donohue and Levitt (2001) explain over 50% of the recent decline in U.S. crime rates with the legalization of abortion undertaken in the early 1970s. While these findings are being heavily debated, they point to unwanted fertility as a potentially important determinant of a cohort's criminality. In that spirit, I exploit a natural experiment induced by policy changes during the '60s and '70s. After the introduction of the contraceptive pill in 1960, single women below the age of majority faced restricted access to this new contraceptive method. Mostly as a by-product of unrelated policy changes, these access restrictions were lifted differentially across states during the '60s and '70s. This induces exogenous variation that can be used to identify the causal effect of unwanted fertility on crime. Preliminary results show that greater flexibility to avoid unwanted pregnancies reduces crime two decades later, when undesired children would have reached their criminal prime.

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Presented in Session 32: Fertility Timing: Sociodemographic Consequences