The controversial economics of abortion law

When economist Joshua Angrist was a young researcher in the mid-1990s, he saw a wrinkle in the history of abortion law that presented an opportunity for analysis. Before the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationally with its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, several states had already done so. Pro. Angrist, now on MIT’s faculty, saw an opportunity to examine the economic and social impacts of abortion access by zeroing in on the states that had legalized abortion by 1970—Alaska, California, Hawaii, New York and Washington— and many others who liberalized restrictions.

His paper “Schooling and Labor Market Concepts of the 1970 State Abortion Reforms,” ​​published in the book “Research in Labor Economics” in 2000, drew mixed conclusions. In states that were at the beginning of liberalizing their laws, black women experienced a more than 4% drop in teen deliveries and births outside of marriage, with related increases in schooling and employment. However, white women did not see the same effect, and even the benefits for black women did not appear to be as powerful until later, in states where abortion became legal with Roe.