Panel Paper: At a Crossroads: The Impact of Young Women’s Abortion Access on Educational Outcomes

Friday, November 8, 2019
I.M Pei Tower: Terrace Level, Terrace (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Kelly Jones, American University

Considerable research has exploited policy changes during the 1970’s to demonstrate the causal impact of contraceptive access on fertility and marriage outcomes, and the downstream impacts on women’s education, labor market participation, and earnings. Recent findings have suggested however that for young women, fertility and marriage outcomes are explained by co-incident changes in abortion access rather than contraceptive access (Meyers, 2017). Very little evidence exists on the impacts of abortion access on economic outcomes. The primary example (Angrist and Evans, 2000) fails to account for the full range of variations in access based on differences in age of majority and parental involvement laws. Using a more comprehensive and updated legal coding (Meyers, 2016), we estimate the impact of young women’s abortion access on their ultimate educational attainment.

We employ individual level data from the National Survey of Family Growth collected between 1982 and 2006, focusing on women who were aged 15-20 during 1969-1979, a period of high variation in access. We estimate the impact of four levels of access: no legal access, restricted access (in cases of rape/incest, or to preserve the life/health of the woman), unrestricted access requiring parental consent, or unrestricted access. The level of access varies by state, year, and age of the woman, allowing for the inclusion of state and year fixed effects. Our sample includes women whose first pregnancy occurred during this period and was unintended. Conditional on unintended pregnancy, abortion is used as an instrument for unintended birth to identify the impacts of abortion access on education that operate through the fertility pathway. We also rely on Current Population Survey data to estimate a reduced form model, estimating population-level effects that may include non-fertility pathways by which abortion access may affect education (for example, through expectations).