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March 20, 2004

Babies' Fate

To a workaholic, charts are like shots to a drunk.

After my previous post, I thought to take a look at trends in the United States and Northern European nations with respect to childbirth, illegitimacy, and abortion for 1970 to 2000. Live birth and abortion statistics, I took from a source that I've found to be reliable. (It consistently matches up with other data that I find.) Statistics for U.S. births out of wedlock, I took from a CDC PDF. Similar statistics for the European countries, I took from charts in a report (PDF) from a statistics organization in the Netherlands. The most significant quirks of my methodology were that I estimated the European out-of-wedlock percentages from line graphs and that I didn't incorporate miscarriages in my total conception data, but neither of these factors is of much importance for my purposes, here.

The United States has well over twenty times the conceptions of any of the other countries, except for the United Kingdom, than which the U.S. has about six times the conceptions. Overall, the detrimental numbers are waning; abortions are down to late-'70s levels in raw-number terms and early-'70s levels in percentage terms; out-of-wedlock births are still higher than they've ever been, but they are leveling off. There are still too many of each, of course:

In the Netherlands (which I looked at in detail only because it came up in the previous post), births within marriage are being squeezed by abortions and out-of-wedlock births, both of which combined to actually increase the number of conceptions and births, even as births within marriage continue to decrease:

Those numbers made me wonder what the percentages looked like for each category — sort of a rating of the odds faced by conceived children who aren't miscarried. The ugly truth is that, as of 2000, a child conceived in the United States only had a 50% chance of being born within wedlock; for some hopeful news, however, it's also true that abortions have lowered to 25%, while out-of-wedlock births have been leveling off to the same percentage. Children conceived in the Netherlands still had the best chances in 2000 (although there were many fewer of them), with a 66% in-marriage rate, and abortions only crossed the 10% line in the mid-'90s; however, the illegitimacy rate has almost reached the U.S. level.

The Scandinavian picture is more worrying. In Sweden, a baby is 10 percentage points less likely to be born into a marriage than out of one, and almost just as likely to be aborted, a rate that has surpassed that of the United States. While Norway is only slightly better than Sweden, Denmark actually showed signs of improvement in the late-'90s, although my sense (check the comments) is that those gains have turned around in the '00s.

Here's the comparative picture for conceptions. Note that the U.S. is actually 20x the number shown here, and the U.K. is 5x the number shown. Apart from the U.S., the Netherlands was the only country to have seen an increase in the past decade or so, and as I already noted, those are entirely accounted for in the abortion and (more) out-of-wedlock numbers:

Next are the rates of births into marriage. In this context, the Netherlands' percentage seems a little less impressive, while the U.S. looks a little more hopeful (to me, anyway, but I'm biased):

Context paints an even more striking picture around the respective illegitimacy rates:

The abortion statistics, on the other hand, don't reveal much of note when viewed this way, except maybe for the United Kingdom — and not in a good way:

The improvements on the part of Denmark in these last few charts raise an important consideration: the significance of the actual number of births. An improvement of 4.6 percentage points in in-marriage births from 1990 to 2000 in that country only amounts to a difference of 3,628 babies, considering the low overall birth rate. For some perspective, although only 2% of the population is currently Muslim, that amounts to 107,688 people. (Another 3% are Roman Catholic or some Protestant denomination than the majority Evangelical Lutheran.)

I haven't derived any specifically applicable conclusions from this data, but once the bug bit, I had to sort the numbers out. I'm sure they'll come in useful in the future (for me, anyway). And if anybody feels like fact-checking me, I more than welcome correction.

While I've got all the files together and the system down, I thought it might prove useful to run the numbers for the United Kingdom, too. Here's the baby odds figure. The other data has been added to the aggregate charts above.

I've also put together the baby odds figure for France. However, since the graphs above are getting crowded, and since the latest available information for France is from 1998 (which you should remember if you follow that link), I haven't included the country elsewhere. (Note also that the data for France includes abortions performed out of the country. No such data was available for several of the other nations, and where it was available, as in the U.S., it was statistically negligible. However, it did make a little bit of a difference in the '70s for France.)

Posted by Justin Katz at March 20, 2004 8:33 PM
Marriage & Family

Wow, good stuff. Too much data for me to assimilate tonight.

Posted by: Michael Williams at March 21, 2004 3:52 AM

Do you know of anywhere that we could find an estimate for the total number of abortions performed worldwide in the last 30 years? Or any persons we could contact who could give us any pointers?

Posted by: Mary at May 10, 2004 1:07 AM

Hello Mary,

I haven't come across such a source. The best I've seen for raw numbers is the site that was the first link in the post above. I note that the Web site has an estimated total since 1920 (a mind-numbing 922,200,000 abortions), which is probably heavily skewed toward the last 30 years. Of course, if you've got the time, that site breaks out abortions by year and country, so you could add up all the numbers. (Like I said: if you've got the time.)

Posted by: Justin Katz at May 10, 2004 12:18 PM