Roe v. Wade Repeal: Predicted Economic Impact on Women and Families

         On May 10th, in her testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen stated,  “I believe that eliminating the right of women to make decisions about when and whether to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy and would set women back decades.”  She predicted that the labor force participation of women would fall, that their incomes would fall, and that their career paths would be delimited. Committee-member  Senator Scott (R-SC) responded by labeling her analysis "callous." He spoke over her while she was talking, smothering her response: "... that's the truth."     A few days later,  Scott posted an opinion piece in the Washington Post stating that his extremely hard-working single mother had raised her children while working multiple jobs (which would seem to buttress Yellen’s argument, not his). [1]

         Economists have produced a large body of economic research on the relationship between abortion access and the economic status of women. An excellent place to initiate study of the topic appeared on November 30, 2021, on the Brookings Institution website, entitled  "What can economic research tell us about the effect of abortion access on women's lives? [2]" by two economists, Professor Caitlin Myers of Middlebury College and economist Morgan Welch of the Brookings Institution. They point out that in their plea before the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the State of Mississippi asserts “there is simply no causal link between the availability of abortion and the capacity of women to act in society” and hence no reason to believe that abortion access has shaped “the ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation.”  In strong disagreement, 154 distinguished economists provide hard evidence in their September 20, 2021 amicus brief ("friend of the court brief")[3].

The amicus brief is rather long, but a few samples of the findings can be summarized here. From page 10: ”For young women, the estimated reduction in birth rates due to abortion legalization was three times as much as that of all women. Legalization of abortion, together with policies specifically granting young women the ability to obtain an abortion without parental consent, reduced teen motherhood by 34% and reduced teen marriage by 20%.”

Several findings appear on Page 14, which can be summarized: Abortion legalization has shaped families and the circumstances into which children are born, reducing the number of children who lived in single-parent households, lived in poverty, received welfare and social services, suffered child neglect and abuse. Moreover, children in those families with abortion access had increasing rates of college graduation. 

And, from page 23: “Approximately 49% of women who seek abortions are poor, 75% are low income, 59% already have children, and 55% report a recent disruptive life event such as the death of a close friend or family member, job loss, the termination of a relationship with a partner, or overdue rent or mortgage obligations.”

              Because the amicus brief was submitted in mid-September,  the justices and their interns had two months to consider the arguments and evidence presented in it.  But during those oral arguments in December, Chief Justice Roberts interrupted the presentation of the economic evidence and waved it off as irrelevant. Furthermore, in the famously-leaked draft opinion written by Justice Alito, there is no evidence that the economics studies detailed in the amicus brief were taken into consideration, or even read. Evidently, the predictable economic consequences of the court's decision are not considered a part of the decision-making process.[4]  


[1] (

[2] (

[3] ( DocketPDF/19/19-1392/193084/20210920175559884_19-392bsacEconomists.pdf).

[4] Anyone wishing to pursue this topic further would be well served by first reading the Myers/Welch article in Brookings before reading the wealth of information and references contained in the economists' amicus brief.  

William L. Holahan is Emeritus Professor and former Chair of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.


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