The Effect of Statutory Rape Laws on Teen Birth Rates

Michael D. Frakes*, Matthew C. Harding

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Policymakers have often been explicit in expanding statutory rape laws to reduce teenage pregnancies and live births by teenagemothers, often with the goal of reducing associated welfare outlays. In this paper, we explore whether expansions in such laws are indeed associated with reductions in teen birth rates. In order to codify statutoryrape- law expansions, we use a national micro-level sample of sexual encounters to simulate the degree to which such encounters generally implicate the relevant laws. By codifying statutory rape laws in terms of their potential reach into sexual encounters, as opposed to using crude binary treatment variables, this simulation approach facilitates the use of multi-state difference-in-difference designs in the face of highly heterogeneous legal structures. Our results suggest that live birth rates for teenage mothers fallby roughly 4.5% (or 0.1 percentage points) upon a 1 standard-deviation increase in the share of sexual activity among a given age group that triggers a felony for the elder party to the encounter. This response, however, is highly heterogeneous across ages and weakens notably in the case of the older teen years. Furthermore, we do not find strong results suggesting a further decline in birth rates upon increases in punishment severities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberahv013
Pages (from-to)409-461
Number of pages53
JournalAmerican Law and Economics Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Finance
  • Law


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