Home > Main > Unleaded Gasoline vs. Abortion – which caused the drop in Violent Crime?

Unleaded Gasoline vs. Abortion – which caused the drop in Violent Crime?

October 5, 2011

This is something that’s bothered me for a long time.  I suspect the drop in violent crime  (in the U.S.) identified by Donahue and Levitt is not due to legalization of abortion in early 1973, but rather the move to unleaded gasoline in 1975.

We know these facts about lead poisoning and kids:

Lead exposure in children is also correlated with neuropsychiatric disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorderand antisocial behavior.[97] Elevated lead levels in children are correlated with higher scores on aggression and delinquency measures.[19] A correlation has also been found between prenatal and early childhood lead exposure and violent crime in adulthood.[92] Countries with the highest air lead levels have also been found to have the highest murder rates, after adjusting for confounding factors.[19] A May 2000 study by economic consultant Rick Nevin theorizes that lead exposure explains 65% to 90% of the variation in violent crime rates in the US.[103][104] A 2007 paper by the same author claims to show a strong association between preschool blood lead and subsequent crime rate trends over several decades across nine countries.[105][106] It is believed that the U.S. ban on lead paint in buildings in the late 1970s, as well as the phaseout of leaded gasoline in the 1970s and 1980s, partially helped contribute to the decline of violent crime in the United States since the early 1990s.[106]

Lead makes kids and people dumb, agressive, violent, and anti-social.

Rick Nevin is the person who first proposed this idea and did a series of studies on the effects of lead gasoline across countries.   It seems to be a stronger link than the link between abortion and violent crime.

I just wanted to put this out there, because I was was on the train yesterday going downtown, and everyone seemed so friendly.


Categories: Main Tags:
  1. October 5, 2011 at 8:26 am

    I have updated my lead exposure and crime trend graphs, including several graphs discrediting the abortion-crime theory, in paper posted at ricknevin.com. Click on “The Answer is Lead Poisoning”.

  2. TC
    October 5, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Hi Rick,

    That’s a quick response!

    Your paper is awesome. “The answer is Lead Poisoning” is the only possible title for that paper.


    It’s a huge deal and who knew the effects were so powerful?

    I hadn’t even been to your site, or even read the literature when I formed the thought “It’s probably lead not abortion that caused the decrease in violent crime”. I was pleasantly surprised to find a few references to your work.

    But clearly, there is not enough popularization of this information.

    I’ll update the wikipedia page to reference this paper.

  3. October 5, 2011 at 10:13 am

    So I never hear anything about lead poisoning or the risks of these window troughs in older houses.

    But I’m bombarded with BPA-Free marketing when it’s just been proven that BPA is harmless.

    It’s basically whatever the media wants you to worry about. And let’s be real, there’s money to be made selling “BPA Free” bottles to rich people. No money to be made retrofitting the homes of poorer people.

    • TC
      October 5, 2011 at 10:16 am

      It would dramatically improve the quality of life for everyone. Less violence = a better society.

    • El Viejo
      October 18, 2011 at 10:28 am

      The biggest source of BPA is plasticized cash register receipts. There is a non BPA version. It has little red threads in it.

      • El Viejo
        October 18, 2011 at 10:31 am

        Anecdotally, my boss drinks a six pack of Dr. Pepper every day. He has thyroid problems. BPA in plastic soda can liners is believed to cause thyroid problems.

  4. beowulf
    October 5, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    I just wanted to put this out there, because I was was on the train yesterday going downtown, and everyone seemed so friendly.
    A more parsimonious explanation is that everyone on the train thought you were a crazy person. :o)

    More seriously, crime statistics can be easily fudged by police departments who want to keep the politicians off their back (i.e. felonies are reported as misdemeanors, misdemeanors aren’t reported at all). The one number that can’t be fudged are homicides, because then the doctors get involved and they screw up everything (copies of every death certificates are forwarded to CDC and Social Security Administration). But doctors have one redeeming virtue, they are very good at incorporating wartime combat surgery advances into civilian emergency medicine. For example, Congresswoman Giffords probably would have died from her gunshot wounds 10 years ago. Her medical treatment reflected the experience military docs gained treating head wounds in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    “Murder rates would be up to five times higher than they are but for medical developments over the past 40 years.
    According to new research, doctors are saving the lives of thousands of victims of attack who four decades ago would have died and become murder statistics.”

    “Medical advances mask epidemic of violence by cutting murder rate”

    • TC
      October 6, 2011 at 8:18 am

      It must have been the long beard and the sandwich sign “Back to the Gold Standard” backed by “Guns don’t kill people, I do”

  5. beowulf
    October 6, 2011 at 12:22 am

    To touch all the bases of my argument… think of the homicide rate as the underlying asset and every other crime statistic as derivative instruments that track it. As homicide rate goes down, the creative accountants in every police department “mark to market” the derivative values downward as well.
    The primary reason homicide rates are declining (and for accounting reasons, every other crime rate) is because American emergency rooms are well-stocked with combat veterans working as doctors, nurses, PAs and EMTs, with everyone else trained based on their experience.

  6. TC
    October 6, 2011 at 8:19 am

    Are these rates really true? Are we really having that many assults with a deadly weapon?

    • beowulf
      October 6, 2011 at 9:52 am

      You’ll have to be more specific TC. Do you mean actual assaults with a deadly weapon or reported assaults with a deadly weapon? (creative accounting = MBAs with badges)

      Assault Statistics of Hospitals and City Police Seem to Differ
      Felony assaults, along with all other major crimes in the city, have sharply decreased over the last decade, according to the New York Police Department.
      But during much of that period, the number of assault victims taken to emergency rooms nearly doubled, according to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene


      n 2009, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital on 113th Street and Amsterdam Avenue treated 210 people for sexual assault, which it describes as rape, said Susan Xenarios of the hospital’s crime victims unit. Of those victims treated, 110 reported their assaults to police, yet the six precincts surrounding St. Luke’s Hospital reported a total of 58 rapes last year.

  7. beowulf
    October 6, 2011 at 10:29 am

    I’m arguing the specifics, not the trend. There’s no question, crime rates have gone down if only because thanks “three strikes you’re out” laws and the like, the United States now has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Remember too, the crime victims who are literally discounted by the police are different from you and me.

    I imagine most folks reading this are financially privileged enough to live in a low-crime area and certainly, at the very least, politically connected enough that the police will take their crime reports seriously. In my own case, my girlfriend is a prosecutor, but you don’t have to take things to the extreme of sleeping with a public official for the police to treat you with kid gloves. Actually knowing your city councilman/county commissioner by name (and do mention it if you ever find yourself filing a police report) puts you far ahead of the median crime victim. After all, everyone has a boss, and for the police its the politicians.

    • TC
      October 6, 2011 at 11:07 am

      Yes, this is very much the case in Chicago.

      If you’re a rich person in Chicago, your odds of getting killed is very low – like a handful a year. If you are poor, it’s much higher – like 30X higher.

  8. El Viejo
    October 18, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Railroad safety: I was second at a RR Xing north of Chicago in a corn field. A slow moving freight pulled north of the intersection and stopped and the crossing barriers would not go up. Unknown to all of us was that there was a second parallel track on the other side of the freight and we could not see it. (The freight was on a siding! The intersection showed one set of tracks.) The guy behind me got impatient and started around us diagonally through the barriers. A fast moving (70 mph) southbound commuter just missed his rear end as he cleared the intersection. Be careful out there. What you don’t know can kill you.

  9. Art
    October 22, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Demographics play a big role as well (e.g., see Macunovich’s book Birth Quake).

    I suspect the abortion (and who knows how many abortions were actually performed pre-Roe v Wade?) and unleaded gasoline correlations are spurious, or very, very marginal at best.

    They’re both great, out-of-the-box hypotheses though. The kind that Beowulf loves to dash into smithereens with his reality checks. 😉

  10. beowulf
    October 23, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Listening to a horrifying This America Life episode right now:
    We’ve arrived at act two of our show. Act Two. Is That a Tape Recorder in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Unhappy to See Me? Adrian Schoolcraft is a New York City policeman who decided to secretly record himself and his fellow officers on the job– all day, every workday, he says for 17 months. Including lots of days when he was ordered to do all kinds of things cops are not supposed to do. It’s led to a small scandal, Several people removed from their jobs, and four investigations of the New York Police Department.

  1. No trackbacks yet.
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: