Chapter 4: Where have all the criminals gone?

In Chapter 4 of Freakonomics, Levitt and Dubner examine the drop in crime rates in the 1990s and the various factors that may have caused it. Some of the crime-drop explanations include innovative policing strategies, increased number of police, tougher gun-control laws, a strong economy, among others. However, Levitt and Dubner conclude that legalizing abortion through Roe v. Wade was the main reason why crime rates dropped: “…Roe v. Wade was indeed the event that tipped the crime scale” (141).

Levitt and Dubner provide much evidence as to why abortion is the main factor in the decline of crime rates; however, I have a problem with the fact that the authors assert that abortion was THE reason for the drop in crime. They spend much of the chapter examining all of these factors other than abortion rates , but the authors conclude that legalizing abortion was the sole event that caused the decline. In my mind, that brings up another point of contest; it seems as if Levitt and Dubner have confused the concepts of correlation and causation. The previously mentioned quote that states that the legalization of abortion was the “event that tipped the crime scale” certainly implies a causal relationship. But, in the sentence immediately following on page 141, the authors discuss correlation: “There are even more correlations, positive and negative, that shore up the abortion-crime link.” The authors give readers reason to believe that abortion contributed to the decline in the crime rate, but I am still skeptical about their assertion that it was the single most important contributor.

An interesting portion of the chapter is right at the beginning when the authors provide an example from Romania. In 1966, Nicolae Ceausescu—the Communist dictator of Romania at the time—made abortion illegal. Researchers found that this contributed to crime. “Compared to Romanian children born just a year earlier, the cohort of children born after the abortion ban would do worse in every measurable way: they would test lower in school, they would have less success in the labor market, and they would also prove much more likely to become criminals” (116).

The structure of this chapter was a definite strength. The authors began and ended the chapter by discussing abortion as a main factor, and examined other factors in between. I thought this certainly strengthened their argument.


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