Aug 3, 2022 - Economy & Business

Women's wages fall by at least 5% after abortion restrictions, new study finds

Illustration of the Statue of Liberty walking off of a one dollar coin.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Women's average wages fall after abortion restrictions are enacted in their home state, as some either stop working or take lower-paying jobs, finds a comprehensive new analysis, set to be published next year in the Indiana Law Journal.

Why it matters: The study expands on other research, looking at decades of data across the U.S., and points toward a grim economic future for women, now that states are moving forward with abortion bans in the wake of the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision.

  • The authors found that after states pass these restrictions, called TRAP laws for targeted regulation of abortion providers, women of childbearing age were more likely to take lower-quality jobs.
  • "The findings remind us how gender inequality is closely attached to freedom and opportunities, and how state decisions can meaningfully impact women’s economic opportunities," write the authors, who will be presenting the paper at at a meeting of the American Law and Economics association on Thursday.
  • "Every time you become more restrictive you basically push women down the food chain — from succeeding in their careers to just surviving," said Jonathan Zandberg, a finance professor at Wharton, who coauthored the paper with Itay Ravid, a law professor at Villanova.

What they found: The researchers looked at the time period between the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and 2016, comparing states with TRAP laws in effect to those without. Their sample included Americans age 20-62.

  • They looked at income and job selection, comparing outcomes for women of child-bearing age to everyone else.
  • Each new restriction was associated with a 5% drop in the average salary of a woman of child-bearing age.
  • After a TRAP law is enacted, the likelihood that women will stay at home due to housework increases 11%, they found.

The research doesn't distinguish between mothers and all women of childbearing age, but we do know that mothers, broadly speaking, experience wider wage gaps.

The intrigue: Kate Bahn, chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth who published a similar, though more narrow, paper in 2019, said the reasons behind the wage drop are not simply that women have unplanned babies and wind up working less.

  • She suggests that living somewhere with abortion restrictions may narrow women's ambitions for their careers. "If women cannot control family planning or doing so is heavily dependent on staying in one job, it is more difficult to plan for and take risks in their careers."

What's next: It will take years to build a similar data set to study the effect of the Dobbs decision on women but policymakers can use work like this to guide decision making in the near future.

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