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Charlotte Lozier Institute

Phone: 202-223-8073
Fax: 571-312-0544

2776 S. Arlington Mill Dr.
#803
Arlington, VA 22206

Maternal & Public HealthAbortion

Does Abortion Improve Economic Outcomes for Women? A Review of the Evidence

By Dr. Monique C. Wubbenhorst, M.D., M.P.H, F.A.C.O.G., F.A.H.A.  and Dr. Brian Baugus, Ph.D., M.A., M.B.A.

 

This is Issue 21 of the American Reports Series.

 

Introduction

 

Abortion is one of the most contentious public policy issues of the last 50 years. In the wake of the Dobbs decision, which returned authority for abortion legislation to the state and federal legislative branches, there is an increased need for accurate information for women, other citizens, and policymakers.

 

A common claim is that abortion provides financial benefits to women and is essential to their economic advancement. This paper explores the research literature and the basis for this claim, whether it is verifiable, poses some questions and critiques, and offers insights into the economic consequences of abortion for both women and men.

 

Women who undergo abortion do so for many reasons, but one often-reported reason is financial. In one study that analyzed women’s unsolicited written stories of their experiences following chemical abortion, one reason identified by women that shifted their decision-making process in favor of abortion was financial instability. This was true even when women expressed doubt about having an abortion, or a desire to continue the pregnancy (Rafferty & Longbons, 2020). This is consistent with findings from abortion patient surveys and state abortion reporting, which indicate that a high percentage of abortion are performed because of concerns regarding financial hardship (Agency for Health Care Administration, 2022; Finer, Frohwirth, Dauphinee, Singh, & Moore, 2005). Abortion advocates emphasize that an unexpected pregnancy is costly not only in terms of childcare but also in terms of negative effects upon a woman’s future prospects. Abortion is therefore presented as a low-cost solution, requiring under $1,000, a half-day of time and after-care for a few weeks.

 

Numerous articles assert this economic benefit to abortion. Many of these argue that economic benefit is the primary reason for a woman to undergo an abortion. Taken at face value, a couple with financial problems or who wish to “preserve their lifestyle” would suffer financially if they had a baby, or another baby. Research cited to support this assertion includes a paper by Bernstein and Jones (2019) entitled, “The Economic Effects of Abortion Access: A Review of the Evidence.” These authors found that “Abortion access reduced teen fertility, particularly for Black women who had lower levels of access to contraception. This allowed Black women greater opportunity to pursue further education… Abortion legalization in the 1970s increased Black women’s rates of high school graduation and college attendance… Abortion access increased women’s participation in the workforce overall… Effects were stronger for Black women, increasing participation by 6.9 percentage points, compared with 2 percentage points among all women.” The authors also noted that in their study, “Abortion access reduced unintended births. Cohorts of children were more likely to be planned, and, as a result, had improved educational and economic outcomes, both during childhood and later in life.” In other words, in this study, abortion helped all women economically but especially black women, and it also helped children.

 

In another study, Angrist and Evans (1996) estimated the effect of 1970 “state abortion reforms,” that is the legalization of abortion, on teen and out-of-wedlock childbearing, (based on estimates of fertility variation), and associated schooling and labor market outcomes for mothers using data from the 1980 and 1990 censuses. They observed that “[B]y 1970, 15 states had adopted laws making abortion significantly easier to obtain.” They compared “reform” and “non-reform” states and found that exposure to a more liberalized abortion environment was associated with lower poverty for white men.  They also found a statistically significant positive association between exposure to a more liberalized abortion environment and high school graduation and college entrance for black women (Angrist & Evans, 1996).

 

Foster et al. (2018) studied the association between women who received or who were denied (turned away for) abortions using a dataset from the eponymous Turnaway study. They concluded that “[t]he majority of women in the study were living in poverty at baseline and carrying the unwanted pregnancy to term led to almost a 4-fold increase in the odds that a woman’s household income was below the FPL [federal poverty line]. Restrictions on abortion that prevent women from obtaining wanted abortions may result in reductions in full-time employment, increased incidence of poverty, more women raising children alone, and greater reliance on public assistance. The net result may have serious adverse economic consequences for women and children. Laws that impose a gestational limit for abortion or otherwise restrict access to abortion will result in worsened economic outcomes for women” (Foster, et al., 2018). They suggest that an abortion-minded woman who misses the window of opportunity to undergo abortion is significantly more likely to subsequently live below the federal poverty line.

 

More recently, 154 academics signed an amicus brief filed with the United States Supreme Court in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.  They wrote, “[E]conomists have also used the tools of causal inference to measure the effect of abortion legalization on women’s social and economic outcomes more broadly… Studies show that in addition to impacting births, abortion legalization has had a significant impact on women’s wages and educational attainment, with impacts most strongly felt by Black women” (Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Brief amici curiae of Economists, 2021).

 

They go on to write that “one such study showed that young women who utilized legal abortion to delay an unplanned start to motherhood by just one year realized an 11% increase in hourly wages later in their careers. Another found that, for young women who experienced an unintended pregnancy, access to abortion increased the probability they finished college by nearly 20 percentage points, and the probability that they entered a professional occupation by nearly 40 percentage points. Again, these effects tended to be greater among Black women” (Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Brief amici curiae of Economists, 2021).

 

While much of the research discussing abortion’s impact on women is stated to be settled science, reading closely, hedge language like “may lead to this outcome” or “infers this result” is apparent. However, some research presents benefits that seem to be more substantial. In addition to the aforementioned Angrist and Evans study (1996), which found that white men capture significant benefits from abortion (though the authors did not discuss this finding), Jonathan Gruber, an economist who advised President Obama on the Affordable Care Act, and two co-authors (1999) concluded that abortion saves the government money because it results in fewer children who require social services. They also conclude that abortion improves the lives of later children since those children are born into better circumstances: “In particular, we find that for the marginal child not born due to increased abortion access, the odds of living in a single-parent family would have been roughly 60 percent higher, the odds of living in poverty nearly 50 percent higher, the odds of welfare receipt 45 percent higher, and the odds of dying as an infant 40 percent higher” (Gruber, Levine, & Staiger, 1999).

 

These studies are a sample of the various reports and research that support the conclusion that abortion improves the economic prospects of women as well as the economic prospects of subsequent children. In this view, abortion is one of many fertility management options available to women and as such is associated with numerous benefits.

 

Despite the research findings above, and the assertions of the academics writing the amicus brief, the claim that abortion has positive economic benefits for the woman is paradoxical.

 

On one side, any parent can confirm that it is true that there are significant costs to raising children.  A person in an industrialized society who has concluded that a child is a positive net-present-value project is not only making a cold, harsh calculation, they are also likely to be mistaken. Child tax deductions and credits do not significantly offset the annual costs of raising a child. But these costs are the same for either an abortion-minded woman or a non-abortion-minded woman. On the other side of the paradox, as we will discuss below, children are secondary in determining who is below the poverty line.

 

One of the major issues is that of future economic prospects.  Women with an unwanted pregnancy often face the prospect of single motherhood, which is assumed to be equivalent to a long sentence in poverty. Much data, and women’s experiences, underline the fact that single motherhood is very hard. But “single” weighs more heavily in this assertion than “mother.”

 

There are multiple challenges in evaluating the literature on abortion and economic benefits. It is quite difficult to evaluate the effects of decisions related to sensitive and personal choices and life events, such as decisions to give birth, undergo an abortion, or plan a family, on income and employment. For many studies in this literature there are issues with data collection, analysis, quality, and reliability. For example, some studies rely on self-reported data from surveys, asking women who tried to, thought about or had abortions. Under the best circumstances such research is generally understood to be limited in various ways. The data may also be fraught with issues, as is the case with the Turnaway Study series, where the full set of survey questions and response data are not published transparently or in full in a research repository.  Study participants in survey-based research may not be truthful, may exaggerate, have poor memories, change their stories to make themselves look better and so forth, and lack of transparency related to data and data quality enhances the study’s existing limitations by precluding the ability of subsequent researchers to validate findings. Authors should address the ambiguity, and some of the bold assertions made in this type of research, as well as their assumptions, lest the findings are ultimately found to be invalid, especially for purposes of policymaking.

 

Every study design has its shortcomings and limitations, which are known and understood to some degree. Authors utilizing specific designs ought to acknowledge the limitations of their approach in their conclusions, in writing, and retain this context in follow-up work. In addition, in research it is not possible to know what the alternative would look like. That is, it is impossible to say whether if a woman had done X then she would have had a better outcome Y. It is only possible to discuss tendencies and trends with any confidence; one cannot make any definitive statement about a particular situation and its aftermath.

 

With all that stipulated, there are data available, and upon carefully evaluating the data, there are interesting findings.

 

More than 63 million abortions have been performed in the United States since Roe v. Wade. If abortion does provide economic benefits to women, this should be reflected and observable in hard, measurable data such as wages, poverty rates, and employment.

 

Table 1 in the Appendix presents some key abortion and poverty information for unmarried women since 1959. If abortion has a positive impact on poverty rates, one expects the poverty rate for all unmarried women to be lower than the poverty rate for unmarried women with children. In 1975, for instance, this was the case, as the poverty rate for white single mothers was 11.4 percentage points higher than it was for all white unmarried women. The gap was 7.4 percentage points for black women. This poverty gap persisted, even as the number of women undergoing abortion increased. In 1979 the gap between white single mothers and all white unmarried women was 9 percent, and for black women it was (a relatively low) 5.3 percent. In 1984 the gaps were 11.7 and 6.7, respectively. In 1990, the year with the highest abortion totals since Roe, the gaps were 11.1 and 8.0, respectively.

 

After 1990, abortion totals began to decrease, falling below 1,000,000 in 1998 for the first time since 1976.  In 2002 (see the table in the Appendix), the unexpected happened (if the claims about abortion and poverty are true); unmarried white women with children had a lower poverty rate than unmarried white women. This gap has persisted every year since then.  Rates of poverty among unmarried black women were following similar trends until about 2004 when the gap was 5.7 percent, and then began to widen again. For most years since then, the gap has been greater than seven percent.

 

The distribution of abortions by race-ethnicity has changed dramatically.  Until 1994, more than 60 percent of all abortions annually were performed in white women, approaching 70 percent in some years. Most recently, however, only about one-third of abortions are performed in white women. For decades, approximately 35-38 percent of abortions have been performed in black women.

 

These data are highly aggregated with many details being omitted, but, as the abortion rate has fallen, and there are fewer and fewer abortions in white women, the poverty gap between unmarried women with children and unmarried women without children has reversed for white women.  As the percentage of abortions performed in black women has increased, the poverty gap between black women with children and black women without children has persisted and even widened. This is exactly opposite what we have been told to expect: that is, more abortions mean women, especially unmarried women, would do better financially. Relative to their peers, that is not what the data show.

 

One explanatory side note about the racial-ethnic make-up of women undergoing abortion: If one were to randomly select 100 American women, about 15 of them would be black, about 50 would be white. But if you selected 100 American women who had undergone abortion, about 35 would be black. This very significant disproportionate representation raises some questions beyond the scope of this paper, especially given the racist and eugenic motivations of the early supporters of legalized abortion.

 

Many factors contribute to why a person’s income is below the federal poverty level.  While these data are not conclusive, they suggest that the claim that abortion has positive economic benefits for women and helps a woman’s financial prospects may not be as accurate as its proponents would have us believe. Other important research also casts doubt on this claim.

 

Zabin and her co-authors (1989) conducted a two-year study of 360 black unmarried girls 17 years of age or younger. They tracked life outcomes for girls who had either a clinically provided positive pregnancy test, regardless of the outcome of the pregnancy (abortion, carried to term, or miscarriage), or a negative pregnancy test.  Girls in the study were interviewed at six-month intervals for two years.

 

The authors found that the “mothers or surrogate mothers of the teenagers in the abortion group were somewhat more likely to be working, to have graduated from high school and to have been older at first birth than were the females who had raised the teenagers who carried to term; however, none of these relationships were statistically significant.” The teenagers who had an abortion also appeared to have been supervised more carefully than those who gave birth to their children. “Significantly more of them reported curfews on weekdays and on weekends (72 percent) than did teenagers in the childbearing group (54 percent). Similarly, there were indications that that those who chose abortion were somewhat better off than the others economically,” measured by the ratio of working adults to others in the household. After one and two years, “The economic well-being of the abortion group did not deteriorate as did that of the childbearing group…differences between the groups…were statistically significant both one and two years later” (Zabin, Hirsch, & Emerson, 1989).

 

This would appear to support the hypothesis that abortion produces positive economic benefits for women. But the authors went on to assess whether the differences in outcomes could be attributed to the women’s baseline status. Did some of the young women have a better economic situation before becoming pregnant?  In their analysis, the researchers accounted for non-monetary income, such as government subsidies, food stamps and social services funds. The authors found that the greater improvement in household economic status for girls who underwent abortion relative to those who did not remain significant, continuing to support the positive benefits hypothesis.

 

However, this conclusion appears somewhat skewed. Most of the girls who underwent abortion lived with at least one working adult, and the income measures were assessed at the household level, not as a direct measure of the girls’ income or economic status, which the study did not attempt to measure.  Household income was the unit of analysis. In this case, the household might have included two or even more adults working full-time, whose income prospects were probably at best only marginally impacted by a pregnancy in the home. This paper had no direct income measure for any of the young women post-abortion or postpartum.

 

The researchers extended their study and found that “Those who conceived again [after aborting their previous pregnancy] appeared to be almost equally at risk of greater deficits in these [educational and economic] areas, whatever their pregnancy outcome.” In other words, if a young woman aborted her first pregnancy but became pregnant again, the second pregnancy, even if aborted, would have a negative impact on her educational and economic outcomes.  This implies that even if abortion has positive economic benefits – a point which remains contested – those benefits appear to be time-limited – that is, they seem to have a shelf life – and do not appear to recur with subsequent abortions. If the abortion itself was providing the benefits, we would not expect those benefits to cease following subsequent abortions. This raises even more doubts that abortion provides any economic benefits.

 

Zabin et al. found that households in the study differed in important ways prior to the girls’ pregnancies. It appears that introducing a baby to a more prosperous and stable family has a much lower marginal impact on household economic outcomes, but it also appears that teen pregnancies are more likely to end in abortion.  Some details are unknown for this study. The researchers made some pragmatic decisions to use proxy data to facilitate measurements of household income and stability. This technique is common but leaves room for error.  The biggest concern is the length of the study (two years). While short-term effects are important, questions about longer-term outcomes remain unanswered.

 

Fergusson et al. (2007) took up this question as well. They collected data from 492 New Zealand women enrolled in a 25-year longitudinal study of life outcomes. Of these, 125 had at least one pregnancy by age 21. The researchers examined educational and economic outcomes including mean personal income, mean family income, the percent that were ever welfare-dependent, and the percent employed full-time. They found significant differences between the families of women who obtained an abortion and those who carried to term. The authors noted that “those who had sought abortion were a more socially and educationally advantaged group prior to pregnancy” (Emphasis added) (Fergusson, Boden, & Horwood, 2007).

 

Women who underwent abortion were more likely to earn a university degree and other employment qualifications than women who carried to term. But this group came from a cohort of households where that was true regardless of pregnancy status. Despite the fact that women who had an abortion had better educational outcomes, there were no differences in any of the measured economic outcomes. While this is not a conclusion the authors offered, women who had abortions either lose whatever advantages they may be born into or do not capture the full economic benefits of more education. Why this might be the case is a subject for further research, but it is more evidence that abortion alone fails to provide greater economic benefits for women than carrying to term.

 

As a side note, the authors also found that women who had had an abortion also had a higher rate of intimate partner violence (Fergusson, Boden, & Horwood, 2007).

 

Fergusson and his co-authors, noting the limitation of their research, stated that “the statistical precision of the comparisons between those who had an abortion before age 21 and those who had a pregnancy but not an abortion is limited because they are based on a relatively small number of women.” In addition, they admitted that their classifications for women (had an abortion, were pregnant but did not have an abortion, were never pregnant) were limited by the presence of women who had abortions as well as live births, and those for whom pregnancy outcomes (live birth vs. miscarriage) could not be confirmed (Fergusson, Boden, & Horwood, 2007).

 

In another longer-term study from Norway, Mølland (2016) studied the effect of abortion availability on young women and their children in a natural experiment, the type of which social science researchers’ dreams are made. Between 1969 and 1972, the city of Oslo increased abortion access, while abortion remained restricted in the rest of Norway.

 

Mølland found a small but significant short-term positive impact on earnings from abortion and a small but equally significant long-term negative impact and almost no effect in the longest-term.

 

Abortion access led to higher full-time employment “until about age 35 with the magnitude being about 3% in the late 20s and early 30s.” However, women who had an abortion “are less likely to be employed full-time in their late 30s and during their 40s with the size of the effect being about 2 or 3%…The effect sizes get smaller as women get towards their 50s but remain about 2% and statistically significant…Women who had abortion access have higher earnings in their mid-20s but have lower earnings subsequently. The earnings differences are rarely statistically significant until women reach between about 35 and 45 at which point there is a significant negative effect (from abortion) of about 5%. After age 45, the earnings penalty to early abortion access gets smaller and generally becomes statistically insignificant” (Mølland, 2016).

 

It might be reasonably concluded from these data that for young women who carried to term and gave birth while young, once they entered or re-entered the workforce, it took some time, but eventually they caught up and passed those women who had aborted while young, delayed childbearing, and entered motherhood in their late 20s through mid-30s.  Once childrearing was over, there was income convergence for both groups of women regardless of their abortion decisions.

 

Mølland also found, however, that teenage abortion access for women noticeably increased the probability that they would never have children (Mølland, 2016). These women never became mothers, which suggests that while the above explanation may be true in some cases, other factors are at work.

 

As regards abortion and career planning, Steingrimsdottir (2016) found that for 18-year-old women “early legal access to abortion shifts career plans to career plans associated with a 1-2% lower income…lowering the prestige score by around 0.4 points… Access to abortion…mainly affects women in the low ability group, whose career plans shift to careers associated with lower income and lower prestige scores… access to abortion is associated with higher prestige scores among high ability men.” In other words, abortion helps men and hurts women, vis-à-vis career plans and outcomes, especially those women who were already challenged. As Steingrimsdottir goes on to say, “Among males, both abortion and the pill have a positive effect on the career plans among black men… the Census data analysis shows that men’s careers were positively affected by both the birth control pill and abortion legalization, while for women early legal access to abortions leads to lower actual income, and occupations that are associated with lower income, and less prestige”  (Steingrimsdottir, 2016).

 

Everett et al. (2019) corroborate Steingrimsdottir’s research. They write, “[O]ur results document the nature of males as ‘abortion beneficiaries,’ demonstrating that access and availability of abortion…may have far-reaching positive effects for the men involved in the pregnancy…men benefit from the physical and emotional labor of women who elect to terminate adolescent pregnancies…For each of these pregnancies, there is a male partner who either knowingly or not may be positively impacted by a woman’s decision to have an abortion” (Everett, Myers, Sanders, & Turok, 2019).

 

From the articles above and their findings, it is a reasonable conclusion that for women undergoing abortion, it is likely that there are potentially some advantages and some disadvantages, but they are not evenly or randomly distributed. Women coming from higher-income and stable families appear to tend to do well financially after an abortion.   The evidence suggests that economically they continue at the same economic level, as long as they do not undergo a second abortion. There is no evidence, however, to support the contention that these women attain success because of abortion. Women coming from less wealthy and less stable families seem to do even worse post-abortion. However, it seems that no matter the circumstances, the primary beneficiaries from a woman’s “right to choose” are men, who are no longer attached to a woman and child they may have had no long-term interest in, and who are free to move on with their lives with minimal disruption.

 

An Alternate Explanation

 

The research above gives us pause about the claim that abortion has positive economic benefits to women. But we can also use the available data to draw some independent conclusions.  It is essential, however, to exercise care in drawing conclusions since supposed “common sense” and answers that appear to be obvious can mask more difficult and nuanced phenomena.

 

To begin this analysis, it is important to understand who gets abortions. We will, for purposes of this paper, define “who” using data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Guttmacher Institute.  One premise is that typically abortions are performed in women in their late 20s, who attended college, are low-income and unmarried (Sanger-Katz, Miller, & Bui, 2021). But this is a point description, a median in a broad range of women. Using surveys, which only captured a population of women who have gone to abortion facilities, the Guttmacher Institute also claims that this population of women is composed of those who are often already mothers and who are undergoing abortion for the first time. It is worth noting that other studies utilizing larger populations and looking at women experiencing all pregnancy outcomes, not just those who obtain abortions, show that abortions are not typical for a mother, and approximately half of abortions in the U.S. are not first abortions, as discussed by Studnicki et al. (2021).   As noted by Sanger-Katz et al. (2021), for women undergoing abortion:

  • 60 percent already have children
  • 79 percent are at 9 weeks gestation or less
  • 66 percent are under the age of 30
  • 9 percent do not have a high school diploma, 68 percent have adiploma and/or some college, and 23 percent have a college degree
  • 49 percent are below the poverty line
  • 58 percent have not had an abortion before
  • 14 percent are married, 31 percent are cohabitating, 46 percent are single, and 9 percent are divorced (Sanger-Katz, Miller, & Bui, 2021)

 

As stated, the assertion that abortion provides economic benefits to women is supported by some research. Table 1 below, from the U.S. Census, can be interpreted as supporting that assertion.

 

Table 1: Median Income based on Marital and Family Status (2020)

Status Unmarried

No Children

Unmarried With Children Married

No Children

Married

With Children

Cohabiting Without Children Cohabiting With Children
Male $71,343 $63,687 $86,710 $85,933 $85,546 $67,190
Female $60,309 $42,043

(U.S. Census Bureau, 2020)

 

These data support the conclusion that the cost of raising children has an economic impact on households.  For any pairwise combination in the table, the “with children” category earns less income.

 

But there are many other factors to consider and at least one other way to interpret these data. That is, in any pairwise combination, income totals in the “married” column are higher than those for the “unmarried” column.  Indeed marriage, not the presence of children, is highly correlated with being above the poverty line, regardless of the presence of children.

 

The data show that poverty rates are lowest among married couples. Indeed, the poverty rate among married women is the lowest poverty rate for any demographic including married men, while the poverty rate among never-married women is the highest of any demographic.  Table 2 below presents the data compiled by the United States Social Security Administration.

 

Table 2: Poverty Rates in the United States by Marital Status

Marital status Both Sexes Men Women
All 10.0 7.4 12.1
Married 5.0 5.1 4.9
Widowed 14.8 9.2 16.3
Divorced 16.2 12.8 18.4
Never married 23.6 20.4 26.1

 (U.S. Social Security Administration, 2016)

 

An older but still applicable study showed that marriage between romantically involved non-married parents, with a child, would not only dramatically reduce poverty for both partners and the child, but also that the effect is especially pronounced for women and children. If single mothers remain single, about 55 percent will be poor. But if they married their child’s father, their poverty rate would fall to less than 17 percent — still high based on the data in Table 2, but much lower than the 55 percent poverty rate (Rector, Johnson, & Fagan, 2002).

 

Numerous studies conclude that married couples with children prosper economically. The list of studies that support this conclusion is lengthy and spans the ideological spectrum. Robert Lerman of the Urban Institute found: “The accumulated evidence of positive marriage effects on economic well-being is substantial. All three theoretical reasons for economic gains from marriage—economies of scale, risk sharing and division of labor—attract some support. However, gains resulting from economies of scale emerge only in comparisons between married couple and single parent families living with no other adults. Marriage appears to raise earnings of men, partly because of division of labor considerations. Married men not only earn more per hour but also work more hours and weeks than unmarried men with similar job market characteristics. Marriage generally encourages savings and asset accumulation and reduces poverty. Though cohabitation generally raises incomes of mothers with no husbands or partners, it is not a complete substitute for marriage. Cohabitation does less to raise overall incomes than does marriage” (Lerman, 2002).

 

Another set of researchers writing for the Family Research Council concurred. “Married-couple families generate the most income, on average. Young married men are more likely to be in the labor force, employed, and working a full-time job than their non-married counterparts. Cohabiting men have less stable employment histories than single and married men. Married families generally earn higher incomes than stepfamilies, cohabiting families, divorced families, separated families, and single-parent families. According to one study, married couples had a median household income twice that of divorced households and four times the household income of separated households” (Fagan, Kidd, & Potrykus, 2011).

 

Conclusion

 

Some research concludes, and many proponents of abortion claim, that abortion improves economic outcomes for women. However, a closer examination of the research shows this claim to have questionable support.  Abortion, birth and family planning are complex and highly emotional issues which are difficult to study. All claims should be made with caution, recognizing that any conclusions are, or should be, accompanied by many caveats. As Coast et al. (2021) stated in their review of abortion’s microeconomic costs, “[V]ery little evidence [in the literature] specifically uses the language of the economic benefits and values of abortion; much of the evidence included here is based on interpretation of relevant evidence.” They conclude that “Many gaps remain in our evidence base around the microeconomic impacts of abortion, including the indirect economic impact of abortion-related care and the longer-term economic impacts – both positive and negative…”  (Coast, Lattof, Moore, Poss, & van der Meulen Rogers, 2021).

 

Half (49 percent) of women who undergo abortion are poor before they become pregnant, and 86 percent are not married. According to much data and current research, these women are already at high risk for poverty. The characteristics that put them at risk for poverty are independent factors that abortion does not address, and children do not cause.  Research concluding that abortion improves economic outcomes for women is based on historical data, at a time when more than 60 percent of abortions were obtained by white women, the majority of whom came from middle- and upper-income families. The demographics of abortion have changed dramatically. As a result, the evidence that abortion improves education outcomes for women is thin, and there is almost no evidence it improves long-term economic outcomes. To the contrary, there is overwhelming evidence that marriage improves both educational and economic outcomes, and much more.

 

The strongest claim that can be consistently verified by the research is that women who come from stable middle- and upper-income families, (who are predominantly white), and who undergo only one abortion, are likely to continue to have a middle- or upper-class income going forward. We can also conclude that men who impregnate women out of wedlock seem to capture significant income and career benefits if the woman undergoes abortion. The other conclusion from the data is that African American women disproportionately undergo abortions, at a rate about three times what would be expected based on general population statistics.

 

What is apparent is that many researchers studying economic outcomes for single mothers have made observations about outcomes associated with single motherhood and attributed their results to motherhood. Undoubtedly motherhood can exacerbate the economic difficulties of being single; household costs are higher, there are constraints on one’s schedule that have a negative impact on employment and education, future marriage may be more difficult, mobility is reduced and so forth. It is equally clear that motherhood offers other benefits that are not captured in economic analysis alone, and that not all single mothers are unsuccessful.

 

The conclusions advanced by those who claim a positive association between abortion and women’s economic advancement are more accurately inferences –inferences that at best unintentionally neglect seemingly far more, and more powerful, causal factors for any supposed economic benefit of abortion.

 

Dr. Monique C. Wubbenhorst, M.D., M.P.H, F.A.C.O.G., F.A.H.A. is a Senior Research Associate at the DeNicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame, and a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with over 30 years’ experience in patient care, teaching, research, health policy, public health, global health, and bioethics.

Dr. Brian Baugus, Ph.D., M.A., M.B.A. is an associate scholar for the Charlotte Lozier Institute and associate professor of economics at Regent University.


References

Agency for Health Care Administration. (2022). Reported Induced Terminations of Pregnancy (ITOP) by Reason, by Trimester (2021). Florida. Retrieved from https://ahca.myflorida.com/MCHQ/Central_Services/Training_Support/docs/TrimesterByReason_2021.pdf

Angrist, J., & Evans, W. (1996, January). Schooling and Labor Market Consequences of the 1970 State Abortion Reforms. NBER Working Paper Series, 1-36.

Bernstein, A., & Jones, K. (2019). The Economic Effects of Abortion Access: A Review of the Evidence. Center on the Economics of Reproductive Health. Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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Appendix

Table 1. Number and percent of abortions and poverty rate among unmarried black and white women heads of households with or without children under the age of 18, from 1959 – 2019 (using CDC and Census data) §

 

Year Total Abortions

 

Percent of Abortions in White Women Percent of Abortions in Black Women Poverty Rate Among Unmarried White Women Poverty rate Among Unmarried White Women with Children Under 18 Years of Age Poverty Rate Among Unmarried Black Women Poverty rate Among Unmarried Black Women with Children Under 18 Years of Age
1959 34.8 51.7
1960 34.0 47.1
1961 33.5 46.4
1962 33.9 49.2
1963 31.4 45.0
1964 29.0 40.3
1965 31.0 43.2
1966 25.7 38.4
1967 25.9 34.9 56.3
1968 25.2 36.0 53.2
1969* 18,219 25.7 53.3
1970** 179,287 25.0 54.3
1971*** 480,259 79.2 18.9¶ 26.5 36.9 53.5 60.0
1972*** 586,760 77 23 24.3 35.3 53.3 61.0
1973***† 615,831 67.7 25.7 24.5 35.2 52.7 58.8
1974 763,476 69.7 30.3 24.8 36.4 52.2 58.5
1975 854,853 67.8 32.2 25.9 37.3 50.1 57.5
1976 988,267 66.6 33.4 25.2 36.4 52.2 58.6
1977 1,079,430 66.4 33.6 24.0 33.8 51.0 57.5
1978 763,476 67 33 23.5 33.5 50.6 58.4
1979 1,251,921 68.9 31.1 22.3 31.3 49.4 54.7
1980 1,297,606 69.9 30.1 25.7 35.9 49.4 56.0
1981 1,300,760 69.9 30.1 27.4 36.9 52.9 59.5
1982 1,303,980 68.5 31.5 27.9 39.3 56.2 63.7
1983 1,268,987 67.6 32.4 28.3 39.8 53.7 60.7
1984 1,333,521 67.4 32.6 27.1 38.8 51.7 58.4
1985 1,328,570 66.7 29.8 27.4 38.7 50.5 58.9
1986 1,328,112 67 28.7 28.2 39.8 50.1 58.0
1987 1,353,671 66.4 29.3 26.9 38.3 51.1 58.6
1988 1,371,285 64.4 31.1 26.5 38.2 49.0 56.2
1989 1,396,658 64.2 31.2 25.4 36.1 46.5 53.9
1990 1,429,247 64.8 31.9 26.8 37.9 48.1 56.1
1991 1,388,937 63.9 32.5 28.4 39.6 51.2 60.5
1992 1,359,146 61.6 33.9 28.5 39.6 50.2 57.4
1993 1,330,414 60.9 34.4 29.2 39.6 49.9 57.7
1994 1,267,415 60.6 34.7 29.0 38.3 46.2 53.9
1995 1,210,883 59.6 35 26.6 35.6 45.1 53.2
1996 1,225,937 59.1 35.3 27.3 36.9 43.7 51.0
1997 1,186,039 58.4 35.9 27.7 37.6 39.8 46.9
1998‽    884,273 58.7 35.4 24.9 33.8 40.8 47.5
1999‽‽    861,789 56.2 37.3 22.5 30.2 39.2 46.0
2000‽‽    857,475 56.6 36.3 21.2 28.6 34.3 41.0
2001‽‽    853,485 55.4 36.6 22.4 29.6 35.2 40.8
2002‽‽ €    854,122 55.5 36.6 29.7 26.2 35.8 41.3
2003 ‡    848,163 55 37.1 31.8 28.1 36.9 42.8
2004 ◊    839,226 54.1 38.2 32.7 28.2 37.6 43.3
2005∞    820,151 53 35.5 33.3 29.2 36.1 42.0
2006Ø    852,385 55.8 36.4 33.6 30.2 36.6 43.6
2007    827,609 55.9 36.5 33.7 29.2 37.3 43.9
2008±    825,564 37.2 35.5 33.7 28.5 37.2 44.5
2009˜    789,217 37.7 35.4 36.1 31.7 36.7 44.2
2010    765,651 36.8 35.7 38.0 32.6 38.7 47.6
2011    730,322 37.2 36.2 37.9 33.0 39.0 47.3
2012    699,202 37.3‡ 36.9‡ 37.9 33.1 37.8 46.7
2013    664,435 37.3 35.6 36.3 31.6 36.7 46.3
2014    652,639 38 36 36.6 32.0 37.2 44.0
2015    638,169 36.9 36 34.8 30.6 33.9 45.6
2016¤    623,471 35 38 33.7 30.2 31.6 39.9
2017    612,719 36.2 35.8 34.2 28.9 31.9 38.1
2018    619,591 38.7 33.6 32.0 28.5 29.4 38.1
2019    629,898 33.4 38.4 28.9 25.8 27.3 34.8

 

§Comparatively, these data show no distinct benefit to either white or black women living in poverty with the legalization of abortion. In fact, while the abortion rate more than doubled between 1973 and 1983, the poverty rate increased for black and white women with or without children. From 1983 to 1990, 1.2 to 1.4 million abortions were performed in the United States every year, yet the poverty rate among both white and black women remained relatively constant, with fluctuating increases and decreases. From 2003 to 2010, the poverty rate among all unmarried women with or without children increased, despite the abortion rate being relatively constant during that period. The poverty rate among unmarried black and white women with and/or without children decreased contemporaneously with the decline in the number of abortions from 2010 to 2019.

*Data reported by centralized health agencies, from California, Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina and Oregon.

** Data reported by centralized health agencies, from California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, North Carolina and Oregon.

*** Data reported by centralized health agencies from Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, Washington.

¶Data for “Black race” includes “Black and Other.”

†Data reported by centralized health agencies from Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New York City, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia.

‽ Excludes CA and NH which stopped reporting in 1998, and AK and OK, which did not report for 1998-1999.

‽‽Excludes AK, which did not report for 2000-2002

€ Starting in 2002, unmarried white women with children had a lower poverty rate than all women. This trend has persisted every year since then.

‡Excludes WV, which did not report for 2003

◊ Excludes OK and WV

∞ Excludes LA, which did not report for 2005

Ø Excludes MD which stopped reporting in 2006

±Starting in 2008, abortions from selected areas were reported by race and Hispanic origin.

˜ Excludes DE (2009)

¤Excludes Washington, DC

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