I have not yet read Freakonomics, but I have heard good things about the book from friends. Apparently one chapter within the book discusses the
effect of correlation between the legalization of abortion in the 1970s on and the amount of crime in the 1990s.
An article in the Wall Street Journal [free] explains the premise:
Unwanted children are more likely to become troubled adolescents, prone to crime and drug use, than are wanted children. When abortion was legalized in the 1970s, a whole generation of unwanted births were averted, leading to a drop in crime nearly two decades later when this phantom generation would have come of age.
The article then disputes, or cites other economists who dispute, the statistics gathered in the study
The Boston Fed’s Mr. Foote says he spotted a missing formula in the programming of Mr. Levitt’s original research. He argues the programming oversight made it difficult to pick up other factors that might have influenced crime rates during the 1980s and 1990s, like the crack wave that waxed and waned during that period.
The authors of Freakonomics are on the defense and have struck back on their blog with a preliminary response.
This is where I like to say there’s a certain percentage of statistics that are made up. Let’s say 97%. I’m not claiming that Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner invented numbers to support their theory, and the WSJ article doesn’t contain enough information to debunk their entire research on the subject. I’ll be interested in seeing how the disagreement plays out.
Updated February 7, 2012 and originally published November 28, 2005. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @flexo on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.