When compared to other industrialised countries the US has one of the most significant homicide rates and crime rates. According to statistics published by the UN in 2010 the probability of being of a homicide victim is more than five times greater in the US than in the Netherlands and close to three times greater than in Canada.
However in spite of these statistics and contrary to general public perception the United States have experienced a continued decline of its crime rates since the second half of the 1990’s. In 2010 there were 5.4 homicides per 100,000 persons compared to 9.8 in 1991 at its peak according to the US Bureau of Statistics (2004). Similarly, other statistics published annually by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Justice statistics have highlighted that violent crimes and property crimes rates have gradually declined, on average, in the US from their height in the beginning of the 1990’s to a low point in 2004 and continues to further decrease in spite of the current economic crisis.
One would have expected that the recession would have ended this virtuous circle but instead “crimes of violence began going down in 2007, falling 0.7 percent that year and then an additional 1.9 percent in 2008. The trend accelerated [in 2009] with a 5.5 percent reduction in overall crime ...” (Jerry Markon, The Washington Post, May 25th 2010)
To replicate contributing factors and ensure sustained crime decrease sociologists and economists have tried to determine the root cause factors and have debated multiple reasons, sometimes contradictory, explaining this overall trend but none of these theories have reached general consensus. So what caused this general crime decline?
The most controversial and unconventional theory has been presented by Steven D. Levitt and Donohue in 2001 by suggesting that legalized abortion played an important role in reducing crime rates in the United States. Levitt’s theory relies on an axiom (Steven D. Levitt, Journal of Economics, 2004, p. 181-183) suggesting that unwanted children are prone to crimes . Since legal abortion averts unwanted pregnancies its application contributes to the decline of the crime rate. In other words when abortion was legalized in 1970’s, unwanted births should have been drastically reduced which is turn led to a drop in crime nearly twenty years later when this unwanted generation would have come to maturity.
With regards to the first postulate Levitt relies on a number of studies showing that family structure contribute to the likelihood of later criminal behaviour (Sampson and Laub 1993; Rosen 1985). Moreover additional studies suggest that women who have their abortion request denied will in majority (between 6.7 to 19%) keep their children but then later present severe psychological difficulties which in turn will influence their children who will demonstrate serious problems until adulthood (Dagg 1991).
In its research published together with Donohue (Donohue Levitt, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2001), Levitt’s established a strong adverse correlation between the decrease crime rate trends and the increase abortion rates and observes that “an increase in the effective abortion rate of 100 per 1000 live births (the mean effective abortion rate in 1997 for violent crime is 180 with a standard deviation of 96 across states) is associated with a reduction of 12 percent in murder, 13 percent in violent crime, and 9 percent in property crime” (Donohue Levitt, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2001, p26). Moreover, Levitt demonstrates that the reduction in crime principally relates to the lower crime rates of generation born after the legalization of abortion (Donohue Levitt, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2001, p15). His observations is even more supported by the fact that the states which...