Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Poverty and Abortion: A New Analysis

There has, for some time now, been an argument floating around out there (mostly among progressive-minded pro-lifers) that perhaps electing pro-choice Democrats is actually more useful in reducing abortion than electing pro-life Republicans, because Democrats reduce poverty and poverty is is tied to abortion. Among Catholic blogs, Vox Nova writer Mornings Minion wrote a statistical analysis of sorts six months back which he continues to point to as proving strong connection between poverty and abortion. In the wider world, Fuller Theological Seminary ethicist Glen Harold Stassen authored a pair of articles back in 2004 arguing (based on what later proved to be drastically incomplete data) that the number of abortions had risen under George W. Bush, and attributing this to Bush's economic policies. Stassen's analysis was then quoted (with rapidly decreasing degrees of accuracy) by Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and finally Howard Dean, who asserted that abortions have gone up 25% under Bush. (see above link to

Once it became clear that the data did not even remotely support the claim that abortion had increased under Bush, Stassen and others fell back on asserting that while it was true that the overall drop in abortion rates had continued under Bush, that the rate of its decrease had slowed, and that this was the result of an increase in poverty under Bush.

Now from a moral point of view, I think one must conclude that the point is irrelevant. Individual human beings are moral agents and as such, although they may find themselves under huge temptation to sin based on external pressures, they are free to choose right or wrong action. Thus, while it may be that in a period of relative prosperity people feel less pressure to commit certain crimes and/or sins, we must not see the duty of society to be simply to make sure everyone is too wealthy to want to sin; rather society must retain a strong enough moral sense to encourage right behavior in good times and in bad.

However, after hearing this argument one too many times, I decided to go dig into the data and see if even the strictly factual side of it is true. So far as I can tell, the argument has the following components:

1) Economic well-being (as measured by a low poverty rate and a high median income) has been greater under Democratic administrations than Republican ones in the last 30 years.

2) Abortion rates have either been lower or have decreased faster under Clinton than under Reagan, HW Bush or W Bush.

3) There is a strong correlation between economic well-being and the abortion rate.

I'm going to argue that all of these are partly or wholly false.

First, let's look at how the percentage of individuals below the poverty rate has fluctuated since 1976:

I've marked out the presidential administration on the chart, and I also marked the 1996 welfare reform act, since that appeared to align with an inflection point. It may also be worth noting that according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, there were recession troughs on July 1980, November 1982, March 1991 and November 2001. (Data drawn from US Census data here and here.)

Now let's look at the percentage of individuals below the poverty line, the percentage of families below the poverty line, and the median household income for the last four administrations:

As you can see, what we have is a steadily improving economic trend throughout the period. You can argue that the Clinton administration provided a better economy than Reagan and H. W. Bush did, but only if you concede that W. Bush has done an even better job than Clinton. (It is, of course, possible that the 2007 and 2008 years will put Bush below Clinton, but it seems unlikely that the economy will get bad enough this year to counteract the weight of the early Clinton years. At most, it will make the Bush administration less of an improvement over the Clinton one.) Going back farther, Carter and Nixon/Ford had the lowest poverty rates of any recent president(~11.9%), while JFK/LBJ had by far the highest (~17.5%). The does not seem to be any clear correlation between administration party and economic well being. Instead, the macro trend is that poverty has been steadily declining and median income has been steadily rising throughout the period since 1960.

Let us turn now to abortion rates and any correlation they may show with economic data. The Guttmacher Institute is generally considered the most reliable source for data on abortion in the United States. They are somewhat affiliated with Planned Parenthood, but their data is used and respected by those on both sides of the abortion debate. In their data they provide two statistics which are population-adjusted: Abortion Rate and Abortion Ratio. The former is the number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44. The later is the percentage of pregnancies (which end in either live birth or intentional abortion) which ended in abortion. Thus, the rate gives us a good idea of the population-adjusted frequency of abortion within society, while the ratio allows us to control for lower incidence of pregnancy due to contraception. (Guttmacher data below is drawn from this study.)

The macro trend in abortion rate and ratio is that abortion skyrocketed from 1973 (when Roe v. Wade effectively removed nearly all abortion regulation) through 1980, when both flattened off and began to drop. In 1980, 30% of all pregnancies ended in abortion.

The graph above selects data from 1980 through 2006. I'm assuming that the rapid increase in abortions from 1973 is the result of increasing social acceptance and availability, and thus can not be expected to correlate to any factor under examination other than availability and lack of regulation.

As you can see, the downward trend in abortion ratio and rate is very clear. I've plotted the rate against a simple linear trendline, and the relation between these shows an R-Squared of 0.96. The trend for the poverty rate is also downwards from 1980 to 2006, but the slope is much more gentle and the correlation to a simple linear trendline is much lower (0.5). It would be most accurate to say that the poverty rate is oscillating with a slight downward trend. Yes, there is something of a correlation between the abortion rate and ratio and the poverty rate, but only to the extent that both are generally trending downward.

Let's try to get a good visual feel for this. On the top chart, I've plotted the abortion rate against the poverty rate. The RSQ is .47. On the bottom chart, I've charted the abortion rate against the number of years since 1980. The RSQ is .96.

So, based on the trends of the last 25 years, if you wanted to successfully predict what the abortion rate will be in a given year, you're going to be far more accurate if you base your projection on the relation between the number of years since 1980 than if you base it on the poverty rate.

But let's try something else. Say that we look at all the periods during which the poverty rate was going up and see if the abortion rate went up or went down less in those years. The following chart selects the three periods since 1979 when the poverty rate went up year over year.

The trend is actually very interesting. As the poverty rate was rising sharply from 1979 through 1982, the abortion rate dropped. The same thing happened during the poverty rate rises of 1990-1993 and 2001-2004. Even more interesting, however, is that during these first two downturns, although the abortion rate levelled in the first case and continued dropping in the second, the abortion ratio increased during both of those periods. What that means is that although women were not getting abortions at a higher rate during these periods, they were conceiving at a higher rate. People avoided pregnancy at a higher rate (thus decreasing the number of planned pregnancies) but did not abort at a higher rate.

If people were aborting more because of the rise in poverty, one would expect to see the actual abortion rate go up during these periods. Instead, we see that people avoided pregnancy (thus decreasing the percentage of total pregnancies which were "planned pregnancies") but actually reduced the rate at which they aborted.

Perhaps because the increase in poverty under the current administration has not been as severe, as those in the early 80s and early 90s, there has been no rise in either the abortion rate or ratio during that increase in poverty rate.

But has the rate of decline in the abortion rate and ratio slowed under Bush as compared to Clinton?

At first it might appear so. During the Clinton administration the abortion rate declined an average of 0.55% per year, versus 0.38% per year from 2001 to 2005 (more current data is not yet available from Guttmacher.) However, something interesting appears when we look at the abortion ratio, which has declined more rapidly under Bush than under Clinton. So the apparent Clinton advantage is a result of an overall decrease in pregnancy under Clinton. If we control that by looking at the ratio (the percentage of pregnant women who abort) we find that it has actually declined faster under Bush than under Clinton.

This got me interested in looking at how the pregnancy rate and the abortion ratio are related. I used the abortion ratio and the total number of abortions from the Guttmacher data and combined them with the annual total population figures from the Census Bureau. To get a roughly accurate female population figure, I divided the US population in half. Then I used the abortion ratio and the total number of abortions to calculate the total number of pregnancies, and I divided those by the female population to get a pregnancy rate. (One of the reasons this rate runs so low is that this would be total female population, not just the female population of childbearing age.) I charted these two rates below. (Note that this chart flows in the opposite direction from the others in regards to date.)

This perhaps begins to hint at some of the real causes of abortion trends over the last thirty years. Note that right after Roe the pregnancy rate increases by 25% over eight years. During the same period, the abortion ratio increases 50%. In effect, by decreasing the obstacles to ending an unwanted pregnancy, Roe significantly increased the number of unwanted pregnancies, resulting, in fact, in a net increase in births. As the abortion ratio has consistently fallen over the last twenty years, the total number of pregnancies has fallen back into a more normal trendline.

Why has abortion really been falling? I think it's significant that the abortion rate is falling in such a tight correlation to the number of years since the peak. This indicates, it seems, some sort of self-correcting mechanism going on. Perhaps it's partly a re-introduction of restrictions on abortion, both cultural and legal. Perhaps it's partly a build-up of painful experience, which has overcome the initial impression that the costs of getting pregnant (and getting out of getting pregnant) are not as high as they were before 1973. Either way, it seems that some force that is building with time is continuing to drive the abortion rate down without any current signs of slowing.


Pro Ecclesia said...

Excellent analysis, Darwin!

It's worth noting what happened in 1980-81 to correlate with the start of the downward trend. It was in 1980 that the nation elected a pro-life President who used the office to promote a pro-life agenda. I'm not saying Reagan's election itself was the turning point, but it is an interesting footnote, huh?

Interestingly, the big lie that abortions have gone up under Bush is still floating around out there. The other day, a commenter at Amy Welborn's blog noted:

"I didn’t vote for Bush, but I would imagine that if I had voted for him because of his stance on abortion, that I would be pretty upset that the rate of abortion has gone up during his Presidency, partially because of cuts in social programs."

Never mind the fact that the rate and number of abortions has decreased, WHAT PROGRAMS has Bush cut in any of his massive budgets? I can't think of any.

Kevin J. Jones said...

Also note: if the number of abortions goes up under a Republican president, other progressives will blame his sex ed policies instead of his economic policies.

Rick Lugari said...

Good work, Darwin. I'm curious, is there any data on the income level of those who have abortions? Historically the advancement of abortion here has its roots in the Eugenics movement with minorities and the poor being the targeted classes (I think that remains as the great unspoken motivation/justification of many pro-aborts). Thing is, and I haven't the numbers to back it up, just a hunch, but I suspect abortion is more of a luxury or "benefit" of the middle class than an unfortunate choice made out of desperation by the poor.

See, a woman living below the poverty line doesn't have a few hundred dollars of chump change laying around to "make a bad situation go away". The reality is that in spite of certain shortcomings in our welfare and assistance programs having a baby is generally a net monetary gain. I know for some that is a point of criticism and perhaps justifiably so, after all we don't want to do things that encourage a life on the dole or bad behavior, but if my perception is valid, it is a net good because it is saving lives that might otherwise be lost.

Darwin said...


Yeah, I didn't specifically attribute anything to Reagan in this, but it strikes me as significant (whether as a cause or effect) that in 1980 we elected our first explicitly pro-life president post Roe. Although there was definately a way to go, that represented, among other things, an increasing organization and mainstreaming of the pro-life message.


Good point about sex education. Interestingly, we do see an uptick in the conception rate under Bush (wether than has anything to do with sex education and a decreasing emphasis on contraception is anyone's guess) but the abortion rate continues to go down. I suppose at one's most optimistic, one could suggest that indicated a more "open to life" culture growing during the last six years than the previous eight.


Although the Guttmacher study quotes some oft repeated data about the percentage of women who procure abortions who are economically disadvantaged, it doesn't provide any tabular data which includes income data with abortion numbers. That would certainly be something interesting to know, however.

Darwin said...

Correction on my above comment:

The absolute number of pregnancies and live births has increased during the last six years (and the percentage of pregnancies carried to term) but the pregnancy rate has merely levelled off after declining steaply.

Also on Jay's comment, I think you mention a good point in regards to the "Bush cut social programs" theory. So far as I'm aware, there haven't been any serious cuts in social programs under Bush, nor were there extensive new programs (other than the Republican-driven "welfare to work" program) under Clinton. I'm not entirely sure to what, other than the magical appeal of having one's own party in power, people attribute the idea of the "Clinton economy" which "helped the poor". Looking at the data, it appears to me that we simply have had a fairly cyclical economy over the last 30 years and Clinton mostly happened to get a good period.

Anonymous said...

Great work, Darwin.

Thing is, and I haven't the numbers to back it up, just a hunch, but I suspect abortion is more of a luxury or "benefit" of the middle class than an unfortunate choice made out of desperation by the poor.

I believe you are on to something here, Rick, and I mentioned this on Jay's site as well. The correlation between poverty and abortion is pretty weak. Many women have abortions because they see the child as an "inconvenience" that will adversely affect their lifestyles - not because the child will bring about undue economic burden (well, at least not the sort of burden that will lead to personal starvation, but rather the burden of not being able to splurge at restaurants and clothing stores).

I would love to see a thorough survey of the economics of women who have abortions. I have a hunch it would be a reverse bell curve - plenty of women at the bottom of the economic ladder, but also a very large proportion at the top.

sykes.1 said...

Very informative analysis, but why, pray tell, are almost all your time axes backwards. A person just briefly scanning your article might assume that your argument is backwards.

Darwin said...


Ha! I guess that would be the family dislexia kicking in. I didn't notice. The census data is all sorted by year descending and I just left it that way.

I noticed I had an axis label wrong as well (It says "years since Roe" rather than "years since 1980). Maybe I'll sit down tonight and fix them all.

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

I have some comments and a link up at Vox-Nova.

I think that, in the context of the United States, the link between the poverty rate and the abortion rate is probably overblown. I'm more inclined to credit a connection between the two when it comes to the developing world.

Morning's Minion said...

I'm glad Darwin took on this interesting project, but I think his conclusion is wrong.

Let's start with the actual numbers, abortion rates and poverty rates. Abortion rates fell by about 0.3 percentage points a year during the terms of Bush I, Bush II, and Reagan. They fell by about 0.5 percentage points a year under Clinton. The caveat with Bush II is that we have only 5 years of data, rather than 8. Darwin does what I've seen so many people do: quote the old Glen Stassen paper that relied on incomplete data. The data do not show higher abortion rates under Bush-- they do show a reversion to the slower, pre-Clinton, rate of decline. And that decline is tilted toward the later years of his term.

Now, poverty. Over the 8 years of Reagan, poverty rates pretty much ended where they started-- they moved up dramatically and then fell back. Poverty rates rose substantially under Bush I, however, by about 0.5 percentage points a year. In contrast, poverty rates fell by about 0.5 percentage points a year under Clinton, and by 2000 had reached the lowest level since the 1970s. But poverty rates stated increasing again with Bush, from 11.3 percent to 12.6 percent bty 2005, about a quarter percentage point a year increase.

I think a strong case can be made for a correlation between abortion and poverty, as I tried to show in the original empirical analysis. Of course, there are other factors at play that also might affect abortion rates, including legal restrictions. I think taking my analysis further needs to carefully consider a multi-variate analysis. But the univariate relationship holds, both in levels and in rates of change.

But let's leave the final word with Guttmacher, who do indeed show a link between poverty and abortion: , it notes that 57% of women opting for abortion are economically disadvantaged. In fact, the abortion rate among women living below the federal poverty level ($9,570 for a single woman with no children) is more than four times that of women above 300% of the poverty level (44 vs. 10 abortions per 1,000 women). And when asked to give reasons for abortion, three-quarters of women say that cannot afford a child. At the same time, black women are almost four times as likely as white women to have an abortion, and Hispanic women are two and a half life times as likely.

Kyle Cupp said...

Whatever the case, abortion doesn't happen in a vacuum, and we have to address the conditions that perpetuate the procedure. Of course, it is necessary to know what are and are not such conditions.

Your challenging thinking on the issue is a good thing, Darwin.

Darwin said...

Mornings Minion,

I don't want to duplicate the response I made to your identical comment on Vox Nova, but just to hit the highlights for readers here:

You're ignoring the data I showed which indicates the only reason that abortion rates decreased faster under Clinton (average rate decrease per year) is because the conception rate shrank faster under Clinton. If you look at the percentage of pregnancies that ended in abortion, it has gone down increasingly in every administration starting with Reagan. W. Bush has seen the abortion ratio fall more per year than Clinton did.

You're right that a disproportionate number of abortion seekers are in poverty or cite economic motivations, but the fact that the abortion rate has fallen consistently even in periods when poverty was increasing suggests that poverty is not the primary abortion driver in US society, even if it is a motivation cited by those who do abort.

Anonymous said...

And when asked to give reasons for abortion, three-quarters of women say that cannot afford a child.

The problem with this is that what does inability to afford truly mean? Would rearing a child truly bring significant financial hardship, or are we talking about a decreased ability to buy non-necessities? Heck, almost anyone can argue that they can't "afford" a child, but some people who make the claim are really stretching when they say it.

Ultimately, even if one were to grant - despite the evidence - that increased poverty rates lead to increased abortion rates, this begs a whole bunch of questions. Most importantly, what is actually causing increases in poverty? Can we really assign specific causes, or attribute it to the political platforms of our various parties?

That's probably a topic for another discussion, but then we get to the more fundamental problem: pro-life Democrats are essentially asking people to ignore a politician's manifest support for abortion rights based on an assumption that the politician will somehow alleviate poverty to the point that there will be - at BEST - a statistically insignificant decline in the abortion rate. Sorry, no deal.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't a poverty rate of 11%-16% translate to 25 million people? That is an obscene number of people in such a rich nation as the United States going without basic neccessities.

Again with the abortion rate. According to that link for the guttmacher stats
1.2 million abortions were done in the United States in 2005. That is an astonishing number of abortions when you consider that we had a pro-life president, a Republican congress and perhaps even enough votes on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe-Wade in 2003-2004. Despite the rhetoric that this constituted a national emergency of doctor-assisted murder and a moral reason to vote Republican, these hypocrites not only failed in an attempt to do anything about this - they did not even try!

Anonymous said...

perhaps even enough votes on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe-Wade in 2003-2004.

No. There were not. In fact, there still aren't enough votes, though the deficit has gone from 6-3 against overturning Roe to 5-4 (though that does assume that Robertson and Alito would vote to overturn, which I think they probably would).

Anonymous said...

Where's the research on this? It seems to me that we're not only asking "Does poverty cause abortion?" but a claim is being made that "anti-poverty legislation/policies reduce abortion." That should be a relatively easy analysis to conduct. Use a difference-in-differences approach on state level data, using state anti-poverty policies as the independent variables... That should tell you if there's any causal relationship.

Hasn't anyone done this yet??? Do I need to write a paper?

Anonymous said...

Even the proposition that "Democrats reduce poverty" is laughable. Over the long haul liberal policies arguably increase poverty by creating systems of dependency. And studies show that the rate of poverty aftter LBJ's "war on poverty" are roughly the same as today.

Unknown said...

The problem with this is that what does inability to afford truly mean? Would rearing a child truly bring significant financial hardship, or are we talking about a decreased ability to buy non-necessities? Heck, almost anyone can argue that they can't "afford" a child, but some people who make the claim are really stretching when they say it.

There's a fundamental misunderstaning of the words "can" and "can't" in this country. It seems too many of us think that if we strongly don't want to do something, it means we can't do it. I debate my pro-contraception mother on this point nearly every time I see her. It seems there are a lot of caveats to the word can't--"I can't (without cancelling cable, which I don't want to do)" or "I can't (without discontinuing going out to eat 2x a week, which I don't want to do."

Unknown said...

That is an astonishing number of abortions when you consider that we had a pro-life president, a Republican congress and perhaps even enough votes on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe-Wade in 2003-2004. Despite the rhetoric that this constituted a national emergency of doctor-assisted murder and a moral reason to vote Republican, these hypocrites not only failed in an attempt to do anything about this - they did not even try!

Partial Birth Abortion: Banned
Funding for overseas abortion: Eliminated
RU-486 Funding: Restricted

There's about a million more examples, but I have to get back to work...

Foxfier said...

cmrk3 --

I grew up FAR below the poverty rate.

Three kids, three cars, new computer every few years, DISH tv, brother in braces, all three kids did some form of sports. Eligible for tons of programs; didn't take any because we didn't need them.

I am not sure what, exactly, the poverty rate is based on-- but there are plenty of pages floating around with statistics on how many folks "below poverty" own their own home and such.

On the abortions: what would you have them do? Bring it up to the court on a "maybe" and get it locked out entirely? Or keep building up the case to get rid of it?

Remember back to slavery, or any other horrible law-- you *can't* just wave a wand if you're going to try to fix things legally.

On "not doing anything": cutting funding for out-of-country abortions, fighting partial-birth abortion, making the Born Alive Infant laws...and that's just off the top of my head.

Anonymous said...

A researcher I know personally has done some work on this very topic. He looks at AFDC ("welfare") payments because there was a lot of state-by-state welfare reform in the 90s, and the theory is that cutting welfare payments could possibly lead women (esp. poorer women) to have more abortions. In effect, you have a "reverse" poverty policy and its link with abortion under study...

The studies that use the best methods (i.e., fixed effects for state effects and linear time trends) suggest that there is no link between AFDC payments and abortions, even though one might expect them to increase when AFDC is cut.

Now, my researcher friend seems to think that there are some problems with the Guttmacher data used in these studies (lack of covariates, only record of state of occurrence, not state of residence, etc.), plus he has some issues with the power of their estimates. Even so, the causality hasn't been found.

Some of the studies found a decrease in fertility rates without abortion after welfare reform, which would indicate that women contracept more rather than abort more.

There's an NBER paper from 1994 cited by Blank, George, and London. There's also Matthews, Riber, and Wilhlem (1995) and McKinnish and Sanders (1996), which weren't published at the time of the study I read.

Worth a deeper look...

Darwin said...

J. Christian,

Hmmm. Those sound like some really interesting directions. Email me or post any more papers you run across. I'd be interesting in reading more on the topic.

Anonymous said...

Here's the abstract from that NBER paper:

This paper uses data on abortion rates from 1974-88, to estimate two-stage least squares models with fixed state and year effects. The results indicate that implementing restrictions on Medicaid funding for abortion results in lower aggregate abortion rates in-state and higher abortion rates among nearby states, suggesting one of the main effects of these policies is to induce cross-state migration for abortion services. The effect of these restrictions on actual abortions among state residents is much smaller; a maximal estimate suggests that 22 percent of the abortions among low-income women that are publicly funded do not take place after funding is eliminated. We also have substantial evidence that a larger number of abortion providers in a state increases the abortion rate within the state, primarily through inducing cross-state migration, with nonhospital providers being particularly important. Political affiliation variables have mixed effects and are difficult to interpret. Controlling for state fixed effects, the effect of changes in demographic and economic variables over time is typically small, although a rise in unemployment has consistently positive effects on abortion rates.

Notice the last sentence in particular, which is the one most relevant to this discussion.

Anonymous said...

I should've just pasted the link to that NBER paper:

I'll email you...

Anne Marie said...


Are there stats on babies given the option of life via for adoption since 1960?

I’m curious what the statistical impact of Row is on adoption. From a colloquial point of view as a woman who’s been trying to adopt for several years it seams to me that the only dialog in the abortion debate is: Can I “afford” to raise the child or should I terminate the pregnancy? While the options for couples who would like to adopt are: Do I manufacture a child via IVF, or do we search the globe high and low for adoptable children?

I realize it may appear that there are lots of adoption options but believe me there are not.

Just curious about the adoption stats because it just does not seem to be an option given any consideration whatsoever in the dialogue of unplanned pregnancy solutions.

CMinor said...

Elegant bit of work, Darwin.

...the only reason that abortion rates decreased faster under Clinton (average rate decrease per year) is because the conception rate shrank faster under Clinton...

You noted that abortion rates and ratios shot up from '73 to about '80, then levelled off before beginning a gradual downward trend in the '90s. You also noted, as above, that while the abortion rate (per 1000 women of rep. age) was higher for Clinton than for the prior and successive Republicans, the actual ratio of decrease as a percentage of pregnancies was a fairly steady upward trend from Reagan to W and was larger for W than for Clinton. I think abortion as a percentage of pregnancies overall is a more useful figure for looking at this trend than abortion per 1000 women: In order to be part of the abortion group, you have to be part of the pregnant group. You can be pregnant only if you are a woman within a given age demographic; however, you can easily be a woman within that demographic and not be pregnant at any given time. In fact, you can be a woman within that demographic and never get pregnant. The "abortions per 1000 women" figure is two levels away from the select population of aborters and introduces a whole slew of variables (i.e. the sterility rate and sociopolitical trends) to muddy things.

While it's not really a factor in terms of the figures you use, it seems to me that in terms of raw numbers you shouldn't overlook overall population trends, either. The first wave of the Baby Boom (1946-1962ish) generation was entering reproductive age by the 1960's. Instead of the birthrate continuing at previous levels, however, it dropped precipitously through the '70s, partly because of the availability of contraception and abortion and partly for social or political reasons. The mid- to late '80's did produce a "boomlet" in what has otherwise been a decline, but that evaporated by the early '90's. I'd bet that the lower numbers of women of reproductive age around in the 90's (remember, the 70's were a birth dearth,) had fewer pregnancies (in raw numbers) leading to fewer abortions. The "boomlet" babies, meanwhile, reached reproductive age in the last few years: an uptick (numbers again, not percentages) could be expected. It seems to me Clinton could have been the "beneficiary" during his presidency of a trend that actually began during his halcyon collegiate days: in a smaller population of pregnant women, the statistical weight of every abortion (or lack thereof) is magnified.

BTW, I'd be inclined to argue that Morning's Minion's figure of a 57% poverty rate for aborting women is ample evidence that any encouragement of abortion--political, economic, or otherwise--amounts to a war on the poor (although our poor, in general, have a much higher standard of living than many of the world's poor who don't abort their children.) But I'd like to hear him explain away that whopping 43% of aborters in these filthy rich United States who presumably could afford to carry those babies at least to term.

Kevin J. Jones said...

"I am not sure what, exactly, the poverty rate is based on," someone says.

Here's where the government definition of the poverty line originated, I think:

"In 1963-1964, Molly Orshansky of the Social Security Administration developed poverty thresholds. Orshansky based her poverty thresholds on the "thrifty food plan," which was the cheapest of four food plans developed by the Department of Agriculture. The food plan was "designed for temporary or emergency use when funds are low," according to the USDA. Based on the 1955 Household Food Consumption Survey from the USDA (the latest available survey at the time), Orshansky knew that families of three or more persons spent about one third of their after-tax income on food. She then multiplied the cost of the USDA economy food plan by three to arrive at the minimal yearly income a family would need. Using 1963 as a base year, she calculated that a family of four, two adults and two children would spend $1,033 for food per year. Using her formula based on the 1955 survey, she arrived at $3,100 a year ($1,033 x3) as the poverty threshold for a family of four in 1963.

Orshansky differentiated her thresholds not only by family size, but also by farm/non-farm status, by the number of family members who were children, gender of the head of household, and by aged/non-aged status. The result was a detailed matrix of 124 poverty thresholds. Generally, the figures cited were weighted average thresholds for each family size.

In May 1965, one year after the Johnson Administration initiated the "War on Poverty," the Office of Economic Opportunity adopted Orshansky's poverty thresholds as a working definition of poverty."

My polisci prof in college insinuated there was monkey business about this definition.

Other poverty criteria included too many people for LBJ's war on poverty to help, and those high numbers were also embarrassing for the country as a whole.

The definition looks pretty dubious. I don't know if there is a better standard out there.

Anonymous said...

Statistics can mask all sorts of inconvenient truths. While the overall abortion rate began to decline in 1980, the absolute number of abortions in the United States continued to rise and peaked in 1990 at 1.6 million.

The poverty rate for families was the lowest recorded at the end of President Clinton's term in 2000 at 8.7% and rose during President Bush's terms in office. The poverty rate for families headed by a female householder (i.e., no husband present) also was the lowest recorded at the end of President Clinton's term in 2000 at a little over 25%. It is now over 28%. While families with a female householder make up slightly less than 20% of all families in the United States, they make up more than half of all families living below the federal poverty level.

The abortion rate dropped between 1980 and 1994 primarily because of a drop in the abortion rate for teenagers and poor and low income women. The abortion rates for women in their 20s and 30s actually rose slightly between 1980 and 1994.

Between 1994 and 2000, the abortion rates for poor (<100% poverty level) and low (100-199% poverty level) income women rose by 25% and 23%, respectively. Abortions for women with incomes 200-299% of the poverty level dropped by 13% and abortions for women with incomes over 300% of poverty level dropped 39% during that period. Since the abortion rate is based on the number of abortions per 1,000 in the relevant group, the increase in the number of abortions by poor and low income women cannot be due to the shrinking number of such women.

There is insufficient data available to determine why the abortion rates of poor and low income women went up. Certainly, they did not have greater access to abortion facilities or funding during this period.

It is possible that the Welfare Reform Act caused women to reassess their ability to care for a child given the lower welfare benefits available and caused more of them to have abortions. More data, however, would be needed to prove such a link.

If the abortion rates for poor and low income women had remained at their 1994 levels rather than rising, the total number of abortions in 2000 would have been even lower than the 1.31 million that occurred in 2000. The most recent data on the total number of abortions in a year is for 2005 and put the number at 1.21 million.

What the above data regarding abortion rates and income does prove is that the more financially secure a woman is, the less likely she is to choose an abortion.

Darwin said...


Do you know of a source on that data that you talk about? I'd be very curious to take a look at that in detail.

Anonymous said...

I noticed Rick Garnett signed off of Vox Nova. A bit disappointing, but not entirely surprising; as Darwin noted the ratio of substantive discussion to ad hominem is not high. I suppose it's Blackadder contra mundum over there.

Anonymous said...


In 1987, the abortion rate for a poor woman (family income of less than $11,000) was 53 per 1,000 women age 15-44. This was obtained by using the index in Stanley K. Henshaw and Jane Silverman, The Characteristics and Prior Contraceptive Use of U.S. Abortion Patients, 20 FAMILY PLANNING PERSPECTIVES 158, 162 (July-Aug. 1988) and multiplying it by the abortion rate for 1987 found in Rachel K. Jones, Mia R.S. Stone, Stanley K. Henshaw, and Lawrence B. Finer, Abortion in the United States: Incidence and Access to Services, 2005, 40 PERSPECTIVES ON SEXUAL & REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH 6, 10 (Mar. 2008). Thus, the abortion rate for poor women declined from 53 per 1,000 women in 1987 to 36 per 1,000 in 1994.

The abortions rates for women at different income levels in 1994 and 2000 came Rachel K. Jones, Jacqueline E. Darroch, and Stanley K. Henshaw, Patterns in the Socioeconomic Characteristics of Women Obtaining Abortions in 2000-2001, 34 PERSPECTIVES ON SEXUAL & REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH 226, 228 (Sep.-Oct. 2002).

The poverty statistics come from U.S. Census Bureau, Poverty, Historical Poverty Tables [available at:].

The total number of abortions in the United States for each year between 1973 and 2005 came from Rachel K. Jones, Mia R.S. Stone, Stanley K. Henshaw, and Lawrence B. Finer, Abortion in the United States: Incidence and Access to Services, 2005, 40 PERSPECTIVES ON SEXUAL & REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH 6, 10 (Mar. 2008).

Anonymous said...

By the way, I am not the first person to suggest that the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (the “Welfare Reform Act of 1996”) might lead women to reassess their ability to care for a child and lead them to decide to have abortions. The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 ended indefinite cash assistance to women with children and replaced it with a cash assistance program with strict time limits and work requirements. Even the drafters recognized that such cuts might lead to an increase in abortions and included cash awards for the five states in each year from 1998 to 2002 that showed the greatest decrease in nonmarital birthrates in which abortion rates remained stable or showed a decline.

The plaintiffs in Sojourner A. v. N.J. Dep’t of Human Services, 177 N.J. 318 (N.J., 2003) challenged New Jersey’s imposition of a “family cap” for receipt of welfare benefits following Congress’s enactment of the Welfare Reform Act, in part on the grounds that it encouraged poor women to have abortions and they presented evidence to support this claim. The New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the law on the grounds that the law did not infringe a woman’s right to make procreative decisions by penalizing her for choosing to bear a child. It did not reject the plaintiffs claims that the law and the penalties it imposed on having additional children was causing some women to choose to have abortions rather than have their babies.

It is also worth noting that the total number of abortions in the United States dropped almost 5% between 1994 and 1995 and between 1995 and 1996, but after 1996, the rate of decline in the total number of abortions in the United States per year averaged about 1.3% per year for the period from 1996 to 2005. Rachel K. Jones, Mia R.S. Stone, Stanley K. Henshaw, and Lawrence B. Finer, Abortion in the United States: Incidence and Access to Services, 2005, 40 PERSPECTIVES ON SEXUAL & REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH 6, 10 (Mar. 2008).

Darwin said...


Thanks for the sources. I'll definately do some digging into these. (Am I right in thinking that some of these are the same papers which Guttmacher has posted in PDF on their website? Or are the titles just similar.)

It looks like PERSPECTIVES ON SEXUAL & REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH 6, 10 (Mar. 2008) is the same article (and data set) that I've been accessing here:

I do see the unusually high rate drop that you talk about in 94-96, though since the average for the five years before 94 was a drop of 1.2 per year, I'm not sure one is right to assume that the 5% drops would have continued had the welfare reform act not been passed.

I do remember a lot of discussion in pro-life circles at the time as to whether welfare reform would increase abortions -- though obviously there was also a lot of hope that it would decrease out of wedlock conceptions instead.

I'd need to find some kind of data to see if this plays out, but one of the things I suspect might underlie the numbers is a dual-layer trend. I'd hypothesize that many women in society found the costs of abortion to be higher than initially imagined (in the 70s) and so most adjusted their behaviors to avoid it. However, a certain group found the costs worth it, and so became regular users whose ebb and flow is affected by certain external stimuli (economy among them).

If the former group was pretty big, and the latter group was small, that would account for the initial jump and then strong trail off in the last 25 years. The question would be: how small is the latter group and what is it that makes it "worth it" for them such that the latter group makes regular use of abortion.

But as I say, I'd have to see if the data at all supports such a theory, for which I need to look at abortion rate data by family type, income, and age, among other things.

Anonymous said...

but it seems unlikely that the economy will get bad enough this year to counteract the weight of the early Clinton years.

Awesome prediction.

Darwin said...

Awesome prediction.

And at this point it looks like it's pretty clearly going to be true. The poverty rate and unemployment rate are still well below what they were in '93. Given that there are only a few months of the Bush administration left, it seems unlikely (though still possible) that his last year in office will in fact have economic metrics as poor (in regards to poverty) as that of the first years under Clinton.

The "worst since the Great Depression" statistic has to do with the stock market -- not poverty.

Anonymous said...

well thought out article! thank you for posting this, I am going to link this to my blog so others can read it.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone thought about how 2/3 of the people that are below the poverty line are children? This means that if these children were aborted poverty would go way down
Mr. Darwin, I appreciate your analysis but I can't say I agree with you. It is clear cut to me that a correlation DOES exsist.

Foxfire wrote ;
I am not sure what, exactly, the poverty rate is based on-- but there are plenty of pages floating around with statistics on how many folks "below poverty" own their own home
Three kids, three cars, new computer every few years, DISH tv, brother in braces, all three kids did some form of sports. Eligible for tons of programs; didn't take any because we didn't need them.

and such.

Your full of it! With 3 kids your below the poverty rate is u make around 15000 a year. There is no way you could do everything u said if u were below the poverty rate.

Foxfier said...

you are full of it.

The federal poverty threshhold in '02 was $36,784.

Which ignores the multiple definitions of "poverty" in the federal gov't alone.

Gotta wonder-- why is someone trolling a post that's nearly two bleedin' years old? If not for the "email future posts" thing, and that a similar topic was posted recently, I wouldn't even pay attention to this....

Anonymous said...

Hahaha. This is great! I was doing some research for the dean of my department and won the bet. He didn't think someone would actually reply to my post. He did get a kick out of the response though. To quote him , "There are people that don't know what they are talking about with too much time on there hands." "This is a perfect example of why so much wrong information is on the Internet. Anyone can write whatever they want, especially the outspoken ignorant losers." Those are his words, not mine. My work is done here.

Foxfier said...

And they generally post as Anon....

Darwin said...


There are several obvious problems with your arguments:

- You cannot argue that the number of people in poverty went down because a a large number of the poor are children and that aborting them would thus decrease the poverty rate because only people who have already been born are included in the poverty rate.

- It's incorrect that 2/3 of those in poverty in the US are children; children make up 35% of those in poverty.

- The federal poverty rate for a family with three children in 2009 was $25,790. I believe the number that Foxfier quoted is the poverty index (a multiple of the poverty rate) under which one qualifies for food stamps and other benefits.

- Unless when you say "It is clear cut to me that a correlation DOES exsist." you refer to some alternate reality existing inside your mind, in which the facts are different, the term "correlation" refers to a mathematical relation which simply does not exist in measurable degree between the poverty rate and the abortion rate as found. Your opinions don't have anything to do with it.

- If you and your dean are so above it all in regard to the internet, I struggle to understand what exactly you are "researching" on blogs...

Anonymous said...

My research is on blogging and how people respond in certain situations. I needed something from an outdated blog so thanks for responding. This is the fifth outdated blog I've tried so I'm thankful for your participation. Sorry if you feel like I wasted your time, I sure know I would. Mr. Darwin, I applaud you for your passion in the research you have done. Take care......

Darwin said...

Something your "research" might want to take into account is that many blogs (including this one):

a) email the owner whenever a comment is posted and

b) include a list of recent comments in the sidebar.

As a result, there's little difference between commenting on a post a day ago or three years ago as far as likelihood of receiving responses.