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Open Access Publications from the University of California

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

  • Author(s): Pantano, Juan
  • et al.

Donohue and Levitt (2001) claim to explain a substantial part of the recent decline in U.S. crime rates with the legalization of abortion undertaken in the early 70s. While the validity of these findings remains 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 differential timing of contraceptive liberalization induces exogenous variation that can be used to identify the causal effect of unwanted fertility on crime. Preliminary results are consistent with the arguments of Donohue & Levitt. They indicate that greater flexibility to avoid unwanted pregnancies (through better contraceptive technology) reduces crime about two decades later, when undesired children would have reached their criminal prime.

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