Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Economics and Contraception

A great article from First Things.
It is long, but worth a read. Here are a few snips:
Contraception and abortion are complementary forms of insurance that resemble primary insurance and reinsurance. If contraception fails, abortion is there as a fail-safe. This implies that we should see in the data a rise in both contraceptive use and the incidence of abortion until equilibrium levels of sexual activity are reached, after which abortion rates should remain relatively constant.

In fact, the data roughly bear this out. The graph (opposite) shows the incidence of abortion in the United States from 1965 to 2005, with 1990 as the index year. As the graph demonstrates, the rise in abortion after legalization was strongly correlated with the rise in the use of contraceptive technology.

The decrease in the abortion rate after the early 1980s may be related to greater public awareness of the nature of the abortion procedure. It may also be related to advances in contraceptive technology that make contraception (primary insurance) cheaper relative to abortion (secondary insurance). And, once again, women bear the cost—both monetarily and emotionally. The data show that when an abortion occurs, the woman typically pays for the procedure. And it is the woman, not the man, who bears the emotional costs of postabortion guilt and trauma.

By now, it should be clear to the reader that, in my view, contraception is, contrary to the rhetoric of the sexual revolution, deeply sexist in nature. Contraception has resulted in an enormous redistribution of welfare from women to men, as well as an intertemporal redistribution of welfare from a typical woman’s later, childrearing years to her earlier years.

Further, given that women’s welfare largely determines the welfare of children, this redistribution has in part been “funded” by a loss of welfare from children. In other words, the worse off are women, the worse off are the children they support. On net, women and children are the big losers in the contraceptive society.
Then he gets to the thesis:
The impact of this redistribution of welfare is profound—and alarming. Societies are structured around many objectives, but one of their chief reasons to be is the protection of the weak. This means the old, the young, and childbearing and childrearing women. Contraception undermines this fundamental imperative, and, in so doing, undermines the legitimacy of the social contract. When the social fabric of a society is geared to move welfare from the weak to the strong, rather than the other way around, it cannot survive in the long run.
So, why do women use contraception?
If the arguments above are true, why do women agree to use contraception? More pointedly, why are so many women so vocal that contraception is a necessity—indeed, that it is their birthright?

The answer is that contraception sets up what game theorists refer to as a “prisoner’s dilemma.” The idea is a simple and powerful one. A prisoner’s dilemma is any social setting wherein all parties have a choice between cooperation and noncooperation, and where all parties would be better off if they choose cooperation. But because people in a prisoner’s-dilemma setting cannot effectively coordinate and enforce cooperation, all parties choose the best individual choice, which is noncooperation. The social result is disastrous, and everyone is made poorer.
Read the whole thing.

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