The Shrinking Generation & the Roe Effect


Abortion also has contributed to population decline and demographic changes. The U.S. birth rate has dropped to the lowest level since national data has been available. In 2002 the birth rate fell to 13.9 per 1,000 – down 17 percent since 1990. This results in a demographic shift to an older population known as “population aging” where the share of the population of working age shrinks and the labor force grows older. This demographic phenomenon will have negative effects on the economy, especially as workers reach retirement age leaving fewer people engaged in productive work.


What do all of the nations great pro-life rallies and marches have in common besides a love for Life? Young pro-lifers! The millennial generation is responsible for this pro-life outpouring because of the nearly 60 million members born between the 1970’s and late 1990’s. As a product of this generation I can assure you that we are filling our high schools, churches, college campuses, and the young adult world with our rallies, shirts, songs, and pro-life days of solidarity. With the majority of Americans self identifying themselves as “pro-life” I can’t help but hope that the number of pro-life “tweens”, teens, and young adults is even higher! Students for Life of America defended this hope by stating that, “A January Knights of Columbus/Marist poll showed that 58% of all 18- to 29-year-olds said that abortion is morally wrong, along with Generation X — the generation now 30-44 years old — of whom 60% believe abortion is morally wrong. These results are a positive increase from the baby boomers, ages 45-64, of whom 51% believe abortion is morally wrong.”


A new book titled “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting” makes a very riveting case that abortion has decimated the population of the United States and its workforce.  Written by Johnathon Last, the book provides an answer to the question, Is America too crowded?

“For years, we have been warned about the looming danger of overpopulation: people jostling for space on a planet that’s busting at the seams and running out of oil and food and land and everything else,” the book contends.

The book continues: “It’s all bunk. The “population bomb” never exploded. Instead, statistics from around the world make clear that since the 1970s, we’ve been facing exactly the opposite problem: people are having too few babies. Population growth has been slowing for two generations. The world’s population will peak, and then begin shrinking, within the next fifty years. In some countries, it’s already started. Japan, for instance, will be half its current size by the end of the century. In Italy, there are already more deaths than births every year. China’s One-Child Policy has left that country without enough women to marry its men, not enough young people to support the country’s elderly, and an impending population contraction that has the ruling class terrified.”

The widespread practice of abortion culled an entire generation’s worth of babies that otherwise might have been born. While there had always been abortions in America (the practice dates back to the ancient Greeks, at least), there were relatively few abortions before Roe—even though most states allowed for early-term abortions. In 1970, for example, there were 193,491 reported legal abortions performed in America.[i] Certainly, this figure significantly undercounts the total number of abortions because it does not include unreported, illegal abortions. But for the sake of argument, let’s take that 200,000 as a baseline. By 1973, the year the Court ruled on Roe, creating a universal, non-restricted right to abortion, the number of reported abortions had risen to 744,600.[ii] The next year, that number rose by 20 percent, to 898,600 abortions. By this time all abortions were legal, and so we can be confident that this number is fairly accurate. Over the course of the next 15 years, the number of abortions rose quite a bit. By about 100 percent, actually.


The Roe effect is a hypothesis about the long-term effect of abortion on the political balance of the United States, which suggests that since supporters of abortion rights cause the erosion of their own political base, the practice of abortion will eventually lead to the restriction or illegalization of abortion. It is named after Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court case that effectively legalized abortion nationwide in the U.S. Its best-known proponent is James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal who coined the phrase“Roe effect” in Best of the Web Today, his column.

Put simply, this hypothesis holds that:

  1. Those who favor legal abortion are much more likely to get one than those who oppose it.
  2. Children usually follow their parents’ political leanings.
  3. Therefore, pro-choice parents will have more abortions and, hence, fewer children.
  4. Therefore, the pro-choice population gradually shrinks in proportion to the pro-life population.
  5. Therefore, support for legal abortions will decline over time.

A similar argument suggests that political groups that oppose abortion will tend to have more supporters in the long run than those who support it. See “The Roe Effect: The right to abortion has diminished the number of Democratic voters” by Taranto (Wall Street Journal, July 6, 2005) for a detailed explanation and statistical evidence that Taranto claims supports his hypothesis.


The General Social Survey shows that young Americans became the most pro-life group around the year 2000, and that they’ve become more pro-life since.  According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 46 percent of 18-to-34 years olds are pro-choice, while 44 percent are pro-life.

Young Americans are also the most likely to hold the no exceptions pro-life position. Gallup noted in 2010 that, “support for making abortion broadly illegal [is] growing fastest among young adults…. Young adults were slightly more likely than all other age groups, including seniors, to say abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.” Indeed, 24% of 18-to-34 year olds believe all abortions should be illegal.

Other polls tell a similar story. A 2011 Reuters poll found that two-thirds of Americans under 35 years old feel abortion is wrong, compared to 59% of Americans generally.

Abortion rights advocates have noticed the pro-life shift. A 2010 NARAL Pro-Choice America report fretted about the deep “intensity gap” on abortion. Citing the findings of an opinion survey it conducted, NARAL noted that while more than half (51%) of pro-life voters under 30 years old called their opposition to abortion a “very important” voting issue, just 26% of abortion advocates under 30 felt that the issue was “very important” to their vote.

The divergence among millennials on homosexuality and abortion is stark. A 2012 Gallup poll found that 53% of 18-to-34 year olds felt abortion is morally wrong. It was the age group most likely to feel that way. But at 70%, millennials were also the age group most likely to support same-sex marriage.

This divergence is evident even among evangelical Christians. According to the Pew Religion Forum, 69% of white evangelicals under 30 identify as pro-life, while just 55% of them believe homosexuality should be discouraged.

Barna Research has found that 69% of 18-to-21 year-old born-again Christians believe abortion is a “major problem,” while just 35% of them think homosexuality is a “major problem.”

How can we explain these divergent views on homosexuality and abortion?

Both gay rights and pro-life advocates have adopted the language of civil rights. And both have convinced many Americans that their causes aim to extend natural rights to more people, a goal that speaks to young Americans’ sense of social justice.

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