By Laura Antkowiak, NRL Research Assistant
In its controversial 1998 feature on the cost of a child,
U.S. News & World Report declared unequivocally: "A child, financially speaking,
looks more like a high-priced consumer item with no warranty. It's the decision
to remain childless that offers the real investment opportunity."
This short-sighted commentary is symbolic of and relies on
a particularly pernicious myth: that children are essentially unproductive cost
centers, which implies that abortion economically "benefits" society because by
choosing abortion parents have decided on a better "investment opportunity."
Even if pro-abortionists today do not put the argument
quite so harshly as they did back in the 1970s, they still count on people
tacitly accepting the assumption that children are an economic drain. Rarely do
we hear that abortion has a cost to America beyond the "procedure's" price tag,
or that a child may actually produce social and economic benefits.
In fact, as this article will show, the ethical argument
(that all human beings are created equal) and the economic impact (harshly
negative) speak with one voice. Abortion is bad both morally and economically.
This article does not intend to forward an argument
against abortion that relies solely on economics. Such an argument would miss
the true message of the pro-life movement, that abortion is wrong no matter what
the economic consequences are. Certainly we would never place a monetary value
on an individual human life.
But the hope is that this discussion will help pro-life
advocates rebut popular economic arguments for abortion that do have a surface
appeal for people who are not necessarily pro- or anti-life.
The pro-abortion economic argument tells us that children
are expensive enough to justify abortion. Pro-abortionists claim that the cost
of raising children burdens their parents, and it also burdens the public with
additional welfare spending when poor mothers bear children. Further, they say
abortion is necessary to check population growth and costs associated with this
The simple response to the abortion advocates' case is
that most children inevitably grow into adults. They work and pay taxes, or
otherwise spend, save, invest, and innovate. Economists attest that even before
these children reach adulthood, their very be-longing to a large and growing
population spurs economic growth. The following four points give an overview of
why abortion does not help, and in fact may be hurting, the U.S. economy.
Fewer babies mean fewer consumers, less demand for goods
and services, and fewer jobs. In the eighth edition of his famous introductory
economics book, Paul Samuelson notes that a growing population leads to higher
levels of spending and may therefore lower unemployment.
Author Lawrence F. Roberge points out that having fewer
children means having fewer consumers of child-specific items, from diapers to
toys to school books. Fewer children create fewer job openings for teachers,
doctors, manufacturers, retailers, and others from whom greater productivity is
needed to support more children. Entire industries are geared toward children
and families, so one can only begin to imagine the goods and the employees that
would be affected by a lower number of births. Notice the recent concern about a
holiday retail season that did not live up to expectations: two-thirds of all
economic activity in the United States is consumer spending.
Abortion slows labor force growth. In its long-term
forecast, the Social Security Administration (SSA) predicts that the growth rate
of the U.S. economy, as measured by the total of goods and services produced in
the United States, will slow.
States the SSA, "This . . . slowdown is mostly due to
slower projected growth in labor force and employment." Abortion's impact on the
labor force is already discernible (see graph). In 1998, more than seven million
additional workers would be in the U.S. labor force.
The late economist Julian Simon wrote that in developed
countries, children bring a positive return on the money invested in them about
35 years after their birth. Even before then, a relatively young labor force has
many advantages, such as increased mobility, adaptability, and productivity.
Younger workers also can be readily trained to meet the latest technological and
occupational needs. We are missing 40 million young people who could fill summer
and part-time labor needs, and who could be starting careers in the latest
This past summer, a Federal Reserve report described the
labor market as "very tight," to the point where worker shortages constrained
economic activity in some fields. Recently Congress responded to the shortage of
skilled information technology workers by authorizing tens of thousands of new
visas for foreign workers.
Abortion undermines technological innovation. Most
significantly, abortion denies us the talents and the creativity of 40 million
and counting unique human beings. Simon states that "in the long run, the most
important economic effect of population size and growth is the contribution of
additional people to our stock of useful knowledge."
A larger work force provides more forums for the exchange
of ideas between more minds, and allows for greater specialization. A larger and
denser population furnishes bigger markets for product testing, marketing, and
sales; facilitates easier communication and distribution; and offers more
opportunities for research and development, a situation known as economies of
scale. This results in more new products, greater diversity of products, and
more opportunities for the individual who may discover something particularly
important, such as the cure for cancer.
Economist Samuelson reports that "scientific and
engineering progress has been quantitatively the single most important factor
for growth in the advanced countries." The "population explosion" that
population control advocates claimed would overwhelm the Earth with famine and
disease has instead coincided with a technological explosion in computers,
medicine, flight, space exploration, the Internet, energy efficiency, and human
Innovation does not only encompass such high profile
inventions but includes advances by the average employee: an auto worker finding
faster ways to produce brakes on an assembly line, a customer service
representative streamlining claims handling, or an educator discovering a more
effective method of teaching children to read. Economist John D. Mueller
summarizes, "legal abortion undermines a primary source of America's high
standard of living relative to the rest of the world: innovation."
Abortion drives the Social Se-curity crisis. Abortion has
left fewer young people to care for the post-World War II Baby Boom generation
as it prepares for retirement (see figure). The Social Security Administration
admits, "The main reason for Social Security's long-range financing problem is
demographics." Given the reduction in the work force supporting Social Security,
brought on largely because of abortion, our predicament is this: unless we raise
taxes, cut benefits, or overhaul the entire system, Medicare will be bankrupt in
the 2020s and Social Security in the 2030s.
In 1998 alone, the victims of Roe v. Wade would have
contributed approximately $1.7 billion to Medicare and $7.4 billion to Social
Security. These contributions could provide the average monthly benefit to over
785,000 retired workers for the entire year.
Note that these numbers are calculated for workers aged
16-24, who are less likely to be employed and who work fewer hours and earn less
money than they would in a matter of time. The economic effects of abortion will
be magnified in the coming years as those children and millions more killed by
abortion would have completed their education, found full-time employment,
become established in their careers, and started their own families.
Abortion does not save tax dollars. Planned Parenthood
frequently claims that every dollar spent on abortions for poor women saves four
dollars in public money that would provide food, medical care, and cash
assistance to a mother and her child. Abortion advocates who share this position
do not give the child time to pay back that money through taxes on her future
Economist Jacqueline Kasun finds that even an indigent
child, over her lifetime, returns in taxes 3.7 times what was spent on her and
her mother in cash welfare and food, housing, and medical assistance. Consider
the following figures.
In 1994, the public paid an average of $11,460 in
assistance to a mother and child. The average amount of time that a person
receives welfare is two years. A baby born in the United States in 1996 will
participate in the labor force for 47 years, earning about $1 million and paying
about $400,000 in taxes.
Even if the child were to receive welfare for a longer
period of time, spend three times as much time in prison as the average
American, and be unemployed for three times longer, that child's tax payments
would still bring a substantial return on the dollars spent supporting her
The bottom line. The economic argument designed by pro-
abortionists collapses when we examine children's place in the economy as
consumers, workers, innovators, and taxpayers. Most parents, however, and the
millions of infertile couples who would love to become parents, will attest that
they do not need to wait until a child reaches working age to consider her a
They will see her smile and feel her love long before
then. Parents too may learn something from loving her, nurturing her, and taking
responsibility for her well-being.
The fundamental reason why abortion is wrong is moral, not
economic. We do not kill innocent human beings, no matter what the cost. But, as
is often the cases what is bad moral policy is also bad economic policy.
There is no real economic benefit to abortion. And there
certainly is a significant cost.
For more facts and figures, please see the new NRL
Educational Trust Fund fact sheet, "What Do 40 Million Lost Lives Mean?" This
can be purchased by calling the NRLCEducational Trust Fund at 202-626-8809, or