No Abortion Means Poor States Will Get Poorer: Allison Schrager

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Economic disparity has always been a feature of the US economy, not just between families, but between regions. In the last hundred years the North has been the center of industrialization and, later, also of highly qualified services such as finance and technology. The South had less wealth and opportunities.

In more recent years, however, the fortunes of the two regions are converging. Favorable tax treatment, better climates, and cheaper housing meant that many high-growth industries and their talents were moving south. This trend will likely continue, but economic convergence will come to a halt if the Roe v. Wade will be overturned.

America without eggs means that access to abortion will be decided by state governments. Thirteen states have automatic clauses to make abortion illegal when the court overturns Roe, and most of those states’ residents have incomes below the national average. Some richer states in the north-east and the coast have already codified the right to abortion. Other states will likely feel a middle ground and place some restrictions on who can have an abortion and under what circumstances.

So abortion will still be legal in most states, but it will certainly be harder to get one in many places and that will mean fewer abortions. This raises many political, legal and moral questions that have no easy answers. But one thing is certain: it will have an economic impact as it mainly affects low-income women.

The typical abortion victim is 20 years old, single, already has at least one child and lives below the poverty line. A common perception is that the majority of abortion recipients are teenagers, but survey data from 2008 to 2014 estimated that only 12% were between the ages of 15 and 19, the same percentage of women over the age of 35 years that required the procedure. Nearly 60% were in their 20s, 55% were unmarried or living with a partner, 49.4% lived below the poverty line and 59% already had at least one child.

Access to abortion reduces the chances of a young woman having an unwanted child early in her life, which are the crucial years determining her economic trajectory. In a review of data collected over the decades after changes to abortion laws in the 1970s, economists found that access to abortion reduced the chances of dropping out of school, being celibate, and living in poverty. , especially among black women.

Limiting abortion doesn’t just mean more poverty and less education for mothers, it means the same for children they may already have or will have in the future. Access to abortion is associated with more children going to college and not growing up relying on public assistance.

True, these studies are based on data from decades ago and the world is a little different now. Better contraceptives are available today, and this may be one of the reasons why the number of unwanted pregnancies was on the decline, especially among teenagers. But the odds are some of the effects on poverty and education will last because having children without the financial means to raise them is never easy.

The impact could be even more profound today, as low-income women with children, the ones who are most likely to have an abortion, are also the ones who will have the most difficulty traveling to another state for the procedure as access is limited. This means that the poorest women in the poorest states will be the hardest hit and most likely to remain in poverty.

Meanwhile, states that are most likely to ban abortion, such as Texas, Utah, South Dakota and Tennessee, are also the ones with the highest income growth. Perhaps the greater economic opportunity will mean fewer unwanted pregnancies, as as people get richer, the chances of having a young child decrease.

But a more likely outcome will be that limiting access to abortion will mean that poorer residents will have less control over their economic lives, will be less able to take advantage of the growth that is happening around them, and will be left further behind. And that means more inequality and less prosperity in states that were finally on track to catch up.

More from other writers at Bloomberg Opinion:

• How Egg Spilling Would Harm Women’s Health: Bloomberg’s Opinion

• The dark politics of egg tipping: Jonathan Bernstein

• Loss of Abortion Case Shows Supreme Court Bankruptcy: Noah Feldman

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editors or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Allison Schrager is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. She is a researcher at the Manhattan Institute and author of “An Economist Walks Into a Borthel: And Other Unexpected Places to Understand Risk”.

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