John J. Donohue III: The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime over the Last Two Decades


Monday, March 22, 2021, 12:15pm to 1:15pm



John J. Donohue IIIC. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law, Stanford Law School

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John J. Donohue IIIDonohue and Levitt (2001) presented evidence that the legalization of abortion in the early 1970s played an important role in the crime drop of the 1990s. That paper concluded with a strong out-of-sample prediction regarding the next two decades: “When a steady state is reached roughly twenty years from now, the impact of abortion will be roughly twice as great as the impact felt so far. Our results suggest that all else equal, legalized abortion will account for persistent declines of 1% a year in crime over the next two decades.” 

Estimating parallel specifications to the original paper, but using the seventeen years of data generated after that paper was written, we find strong support for the prediction and the broad hypothesis, while illuminating some previously unrecognized patterns of crime and arrests. We estimate that overall crime fell 17.5% from 1998 to 2014 due to legalized abortion—a decline of 1% per year. From 1991 to 2014, the violent and property crime rates each fell by 50%. Legalized abortion is estimated to have reduced violent crime by 47% and property crime by 33% over this period, and thus can explain most of the observed crime decline.

View paper: John J Donohue, Steven Levitt, The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime over the Last Two Decades, American Law and Economics Review, Volume 22, Issue 2, Fall 2020, Pages 241–302, »

About the speaker

John J. Donohue III is the C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and an Affiliated Reserarch Professor with the Amerian Bar Foundation.

Professor Donohue has been one of the leading empirical researchers in the legal academy over the past 30 years. An economist as well as a lawyer, Professor Donohue is well known for using empirical analysis to determine the impact of law and public policy in a wide range of areas, including civil rights and antidiscrimination law, employment discrimination, criminal justice and the death penalty, and factors influencing crime, such as guns, incarceration, policing, and legalized abortion.

Before rejoining the Stanford Law School faculty in 2010 (where he had previously taught from 1995–2004), Professor Donohue was the Leighton Homer Surbeck Professor of Law at Yale Law School. He recently co-authored Employment Discrimination: Law and Theory with George Rutherglen (now in its fourth edition). Earlier in his career, he was a law professor at Northwestern University and a research fellow with the American Bar Foundation. Additionally, he clerked with Chief Judge T. Emmet Clarie, of the U.S. District Court of Hartford, Connecticut. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and the former editor of the American Law and Economics Review and president of the American Law and Economics Association.

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See also: Spring 2021