Using economics to understand the far-reaching impacts of undoing Roe v. wade


With abortions banned in at least 11 states – with more set to ban or severely limit the medical procedure soon – it will likely increase the proportion of women who are single mothers, with a greater burden falling on those low-income and minority. , says Luigi Pistaferri, an economist at Stanford.

What the field of economics reveals about the reversal of Roe vs. Wade. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Here, Pistaferri summarizes some of the vast body of research in his field that shows the economic consequences that legalizing abortion has had in the United States, and what this research reveals about a future where reproductive health choices are severely limited. Research by his colleagues shows that restrictions will lead to lower educational attainment, which is associated with lower labor force participation, lower wages and poorer career prospects – ultimately leading, very probably, to an increase in inequalities.

Pistaferri, whose research examines family consumption, family labor supply, welfare reform, and inequality issues, is professor of economics at the School of Humanities and Sciences and Ralph Landau Senior Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

Can you give a brief overview of the economic effects Roe vs. Wade has had in the past 50 years?

Luigi Pistaferri (Image credit: Courtesy of Stanford Institute for Social Science Research)

Some scholars have argued that the legalization of abortion that took place in US states during the 1970s (and finally peaked in 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision) led to a reduction of about 5 percentage points in the overall birth rate. Roe’s reversal is unlikely to reverse the birth rate as much, due to new medical technologies (abortion drugs and birth control methods such as the IUD) offering safer alternatives to reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancies .

Others have examined the economic outcomes of children born when abortion was legal versus those of children who would have been born solely (or primarily) because of abortion restrictions or bans. They concluded that the legalization of abortion led to significant improvements in the economic status of children born in generations where abortion had been legalized. These children lived in households less likely to be headed by a single mother, less likely to have below-poverty incomes or be on welfare, and with lower infant mortality than children of neighboring generations. These children were also more likely to complete college and, as adults, were less likely to be single parents themselves or on welfare.

Finally, several articles have studied the economic effect of legalized abortion on women, focusing in particular on the reduction in teenage fertility and out-of-wedlock births in teenage girls. These papers show that declining teenage fertility was particularly relevant to black women, leading to greater investment in their human capital (educational achievement) and better employment outcomes. Some new research finds that women who were denied abortions were more likely to experience financial hardship later in life, primarily because they tended to have greater parental obligations without a corresponding increase in government support or of a male partner.

Do you think the end of Roe vs. Wade lead to more inequality in America, as some predict? Why or why not?

If we accept the hypothesis that access to abortion (along with wide availability of contraceptive methods) enables women to better manage their fertility choices, leading to greater participation in the labor market , investment in education, etc., it is clear that women who live in states that make abortion illegal (or severely restrict it) will experience worse economic outcomes than those living in states where abortion is illegal. is still legal.

This was already the case before Dobbs; the Supreme Court’s decision will further exacerbate these differences.

Low educational attainment and low labor force participation reduce earnings and career prospects. It is certainly true that women who live in states where abortion is illegal could overcome restrictions by traveling to states where it is legal, relying on abortion drugs, or using anti-abortion methods more intensely. conceptual. But these options are expensive and/or require knowledge of complicated medical guidelines, implying that the greatest burden of abortion restrictions will fall on low-income women and minorities (and this is what researchers who studied the experience of the 1960s and 1970s had found).

I believe we will see an increase in the proportion of women who are single mothers. Being a single mother is a good predictor of becoming poor; moreover, children born into single-parent families are more likely to perform poorly in school and are more likely to perform poorly as adults. More generally, women with children (whether intentional or not) experience less favorable wage outcomes than those without (the “motherhood penalty”), which may weaken their position as “negotiator” in the of a marriage or cohabitation relationship, thus increasing inequalities within the household.

Because of the maternity penalty mentioned above, wage inequality is likely to increase both between states (for all women) and within states (for low-income women compared to women at high income). It is difficult to say how large these effects will be – but while one may be uncertain of the magnitude, it is easier to predict the direction of the changes.

With the end of Roe vs. Wadewhat other impacts do you think it will have more broadly?

One way to answer this question is to extrapolate from studies that have examined the era of legalization before and after abortion. It can be expected that more women, especially young women or minorities, will withdraw from the labor force or reduce their level of education due to unwanted pregnancies. Reduced investment in jobs and education has both a private and a social component, and has been shown to reverberate across generations. Government budgets could also be affected through two channels: reduced government tax revenue due to declining employment of prime-age women and increased spending on safety net programs. As noted, banning abortion is likely to increase the proportion of women who are single mothers. In the United States, social assistance programs are strongly oriented towards this segment of the population, but the reforms adopted in the 1990s and 2000s made access to social assistance more cumbersome and time-limited. It is therefore difficult to predict the overall effects. States that enact abortion bans may introduce family-friendly legislation (such as more generous maternal leave or pre-k childcare policies, etc.); however, currently it is states with less restrictive abortion laws that have more generous family leave laws, suggesting that increasing inequity between states is unlikely to be offset by public policies.


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