Review of Economic Research Finds that Access to Abortion Improves Women’s Economic Outcomes

Press Release


July 18, 2019

IWPR Contact: Jennifer Clark | 202-785-5100 |


New resource summarizes economic research on the effects of access to abortion on women’s education and work

Washington, DC—Access to abortion increases women’s educational attainment and labor force participation, according to a new report released today by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), which synthesizes rigorous quantitative research on the economic impact of access to abortion in the United States and beyond.

Findings from the literature, which focused on the years before and after Roe v. Wade, include:

  • Increased educational attainment: Abortion access reduced teen fertility and increased women’s college attainment. Increases in postsecondary attainment were concentrated among Black women, who had much larger decreases in teen fertility than White women. This is likely related to Black women’s lower access to contraception at the time, as is true today.
  • Labor force participation: Abortion access increased women’s participation in the workforce, and the increases were larger among Black women than among White women. These increases were in addition to the higher rates of labor force participation Black women already experienced relative white women.
  • Reduced poverty for future generations: Abortion access reduced unintended births, which meant that after abortion legalization, pregnancies were more likely to be planned.  Children born to mothers who had abortion access had improved educational and economic outcomes, including lower rates of poverty and public assistance receipt and higher college graduation rates.

While a large body of research has examined the effects of abortion access on birth rates and fertility outcomes, few resources until now provide an in-depth review of the smaller body of economic literature that analyzes how access to abortion affects women’s and children’s economic outcomes.

The report connects evidence from legislative changes in the 1970s to the current policy landscape and recent restrictions in access to abortion in the United States. Further reductions in access to abortion would be likely to reduce college enrollment and completion, especially among low-income women and women of color, who typically have less access to reproductive health care and contraception than white women and those with higher incomes. Increases in unintended births would also likely reduce women’s labor force participation, which has increased dramatically since the 1970s.

Economist Kelly Jones, Ph.D., director of IWPR’s Center on the Economics of Reproductive Health, commented on the findings:

“Access to abortion affects women’s ability to make decisions not just about their own bodies, but about their educational and career aspirations, choices that shape the economic trajectory of their lives. Recent state restrictions on access to abortion are increasing unintended births and this body of evidence suggests that this will have negative economic consequences for women, their families, and the economic health of their communities more broadly.”

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that conducts and communicates research to inspire public dialogue, shape policy, and improve the lives and opportunities of women of diverse backgrounds, circumstances, and experiences. IWPR also works in collaboration with the Program on Gender Analysis in Economics at American University.