|Institution||University of Chicago|
|Field|| Social economics |
|Chicago School of Economics|
|Alma mater|| Harvard University (AB)|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (PhD)
|James M. Poterba|
|Influences|| Gary Becker |
|Contributions||Freakonomics , SuperFreakonomics|
|Awards||John Bates Clark Medal (2003)|
|Information at IDEAS / RePEc|
Steven David Levitt (born May 29, 1967) is an American economist and co-author of the best-selling book Freakonomics and its sequels (along with Stephen J. Dubner). Levitt was the winner of the 2003 John Bates Clark Medal for his work in the field of crime, and is currently the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago as well as the Faculty Director and Co-Founder of the Center for Radical Innovation for Social Change at the University of Chicagowhich incubates the Data Science for Everyone coalition . He was co-editor of the Journal of Political Economy published by the University of Chicago Press until December 2007. In 2009, Levitt co-founded TGG Group, a business and philanthropy consulting company. He was chosen as one of Time magazine's "100 People Who Shape Our World" in 2006. A 2011 survey of economics professors named Levitt their fourth favorite living economist under the age of 60, after Paul Krugman, Greg Mankiw and Daron Acemoglu.
Levitt attended St. Paul Academy and Summit School in St. Paul, Minnesota. He graduated from Harvard University in 1989 with his AB in economics summa cum laude, writing his senior thesis on rational bubbles in horse breeding, and then worked as a consultant at Corporate Decisions, Inc. (CDI) in Boston advising Fortune 500 companies. He received his PhD in economics from MIT in 1994.He is currently the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor and the director of Gary Becker Milton Friedman Institute for Research in Economics at the University of Chicago. In 2003 he won the John Bates Clark Medal, awarded every two years by the American Economic Association to the most promising U.S. economist under the age of 40. In April 2005 Levitt published his first book, Freakonomics (coauthored with Stephen J. Dubner), which became a New York Times bestseller. Levitt and Dubner also started a blog devoted to Freakonomics.
His work on various economics topics, including crime, politics and sports, includes over 60 academic publications. For example, his An Economic Analysis of a Drug-Selling Gang's Finances (2000) analyzes a hand-written "accounting" of a criminal gang, and draws conclusions about the income distribution among gang members. In his most well-known and controversial paper ( The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime (2001), co-authored with John Donohue), he shows that the legalization of abortion in the US in 1973 was followed approximately eighteen years later by a considerable reduction in crime, then argues that unwanted children commit more crime than wanted children and that the legalization of abortion resulted in fewer unwanted children, and thus a reduction in crime as these children reached the age at which many criminals begin committing crimes.
Among other papers, Levitt's work on crime includes examination of the effects of prison population, police hiring, availability of LoJack anti-theft devices and legal status of abortion on crime rates.
Revisiting a question first studied empirically in the 1960s, Donohue and Levitt argued that the legalization of abortion could account for almost half of the reduction in crime witnessed in the 1990s.This paper sparked much controversy, to which Levitt has said
". . . John Donohue and I estimate maybe that there are 5,000 or 10,000 fewer homicides because of it. But if you think that a fetus is like a person, then that’s a horrible tradeoff. So ultimately I think our study is interesting because it helps us understand why crime has gone down. But in terms of policy towards abortion, you’re really misguided if you use our study to base your opinion about what the right policy is towards abortion"
In 2003, Theodore Joyce argued that legalized abortion had little impact on crime, contradicting Donohue and Levitt's results.In 2004, the authors published a response, in which they claimed Joyce's argument was flawed due to omitted-variable bias.
In November 2005, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston economist Christopher Footeand his research assistant Christopher Goetz, published a paper, in which they argued that the results in Donohue and Levitt's paper were due to statistical errors made by the authors. When the corrections were made, Foote and Goetz argued that abortion actually increased violent crime instead of decreasing it.
In January 2006, Donohue and Levitt published a response,in which they admitted the errors in their original paper, but also pointed out that Foote and Goetz's correction was flawed due to heavy attenuation bias. The authors argued that, after making necessary changes to fix the original errors, the corrected link between abortion and crime was now weaker but still statistically significant.
In 2019, Levitt and Donohue published a new paper to review the predictions of the original 2001 paper.The authors concluded that the original predictions held up with strong effects. "We estimate that crime fell roughly 20% between 1997 and 2014 due to legalized abortion. The cumulative impact of legalized abortion on crime is roughly 45%, accounting for a very substantial portion of the roughly 50-55% overall decline from the peak of crime in the early 1990s."
Levitt discusses this paper and the background and history of the original paper (including its criticisms) in an episode of the Freakonomics podcast.
Levitt's 1996 paper on prison population uses prison overcrowding litigation to estimate that decreasing the prison population by one person is associated with an increase of fifteen Index I crimes per year (Index I crimes include homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson).
In a 1997 paper on the effect of police hiring on crime rates, Levitt used the timing of mayoral and gubernatorial elections as an instrumental variable to identify a causal effect of police on crime. Past studies had been inconclusive because of the simultaneity inherent in police hiring (when crime increases, more police are hired to combat crime). The findings of this paper were found to be the result of a programming error. This was pointed out in a comment by Justin McCrary published in the American Economic Review in 2002.In a response published with McCrary's comment Levitt admits to the error and then goes on to offer alternative evidence to support his original conclusions. Levitt's 1997 paper was also criticized in another comment that demonstrates the weakness of the instrumental variables used in the original study, rendering the interpretation difficult if not impossible.
Ayres and Levitt (1998) used a new dataset on the prevalence of LoJack automobile anti-theft devices to estimate the social externality associated with its use. They find that the marginal social benefit of Lojack is fifteen times greater than the marginal social cost in high crime areas, but that those who install LoJack obtain less than ten percent of the total social benefits.
Another 1998 paper finds that juvenile criminals are at least as responsive to criminal sanctions as adults. Sharp drops in crime at the age of maturity suggest that deterrence plays an important role in the decision to commit a crime.
Levitt and Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh (2000) analyzed a unique dataset which details the financial activities of a drug-selling street gang. They found that wage earnings in the gang were somewhat higher than legal market alternatives, but did not offset the increased risks associated with selling drugs. They suggested that the prospect of high future earnings is the primary economic motivation for being in a gang.
Levitt and Porter (2001) found that drivers with alcohol in their blood are seven times more likely to cause a fatal crash than sober drivers (those above the legal limit are 13 times more likely than sober drivers). They estimate that the externality per mile driven by a drunk driver is at least thirty cents, which implies that the proper fine to internalize this cost is roughly $8,000.
Duggan and Levitt (2002) showed how non-linear payoff schemes establish incentives for corruption and the authors used the non-linearity to provide substantial statistical evidence that cheating is taking place in Japanese sumo wrestling. Brian Jacob and Levitt (2003) developed an algorithm to detect teachers who cheat for their students on standardized tests. They found that the observed frequency of cheating appears to respond strongly to relatively minor changes in incentives.
Levitt's work on politics includes papers on the effects of campaign spending, on the median voter theorem, and on the effects of federal spending.
Levitt's 1994 paper on campaign spending employs a unique identification strategy to control for the quality of each candidate (which in previous work had led to an overstatement of the true effect). It concludes that campaign spending has a very small impact on election outcomes, regardless of who does the spending. On the subject of federal spending and elections, previous empirical studies were not able to establish that members of Congress are rewarded by the electorate for bringing federal dollars to their district because of omitted variables bias. Levitt and Snyder (1997) employ an instrument which circumvents this problem and finds evidence that federal spending benefits congressional incumbents; they find that an additional $100 per capita spending is worth as much as 2 percent of the popular vote.
The 1996 paper on the median voter theorem develops a methodology for consistently estimating the relative weights in a senator's utility function and casts doubt on the median voter theorem, finding that the senator's own ideology is the primary determinant of roll-call voting patterns.
The broken windows theory is a criminological theory that states that visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior, and civil disorder create an urban environment that encourages further crime and disorder, including serious crimes. The theory suggests that policing methods that target minor crimes, such as vandalism, loitering, public drinking, jaywalking and fare evasion, help to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness.
John Richard Lott Jr. is an American economist, political commentator, and gun rights advocate. Lott was formerly employed at various academic institutions including the University of Chicago, Yale University, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Maryland, College Park, and at the American Enterprise Institute conservative think tank. He is former president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, a nonprofit he founded in 2013. He worked in the Office of Justice Programs within the U.S. Department of Justice under the Donald Trump administration from October 2020 to January 2021. Lott holds a Ph.D. in economics from UCLA.
More Guns, Less Crime is a book by John Lott that says violent crime rates go down when states pass "shall issue" concealed carry laws. He presents the results of his statistical analysis of crime data for every county in the United States during 29 years from 1977 to 2005. Each edition of the book was refereed by the University of Chicago Press. The book examines city, county and state level data from the entire United States and measures the impact of 13 different types of gun control laws on crime rates. The book expands on an earlier study published in 1997 by Lott and his co-author David Mustard in The Journal of Legal Studies and by Lott and his co-author John Whitley in The Journal of Law and Economics, October 2001.
The abortion debate is the ongoing controversy surrounding the moral, legal, and religious status of induced abortion. In English-speaking countries, the sides involved in the debate are the self-described "pro-choice" and "pro-life" movements. Pro-choice emphasizes the woman's choice whether to terminate a pregnancy. Pro-life proposes the right of the embryo or fetus to gestate to term and be born. Both terms are considered loaded in mainstream media, where terms such as "abortion rights" or "anti-abortion" are generally preferred. Each movement has, with varying results, sought to influence public opinion and to attain legal support for its position.
The effect of legalized abortion on crime is a controversial hypothesis about the reduction in crime in the decades following the legalization of abortion. Proponents argue that the availability of abortion resulted in fewer births of children at the highest risk of committing crime. The earliest research suggesting such an effect was a 1966 study in Sweden. In 2001, Steven Levitt of the University of Chicago and John Donohue of Yale University argued, citing their research and earlier studies, that children who are unwanted or whose parents cannot support them are likelier to become criminals. This idea was further popularized by its inclusion in the book Freakonomics, which Levitt co-wrote.
Roland Gerhard Fryer Jr. is an American economist. In 2007, at age 30, he became the youngest African-American to be given tenure at Harvard University.
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything is the debut non-fiction book by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner. Published on April 12, 2005, by William Morrow, the book has been described as melding pop culture with economics. By late 2009, the book had sold over 4 million copies worldwide. Based on the success of the original book, Levitt and Dubner have grown the Freakonomics brand into a multi-media franchise, with a sequel book, a feature film, a regular radio segment on National Public Radio, and a weekly blog.
Paul Feldman is the "Bagel Man" mentioned in Freakonomics by Levitt and Dubner, a man who started his own business selling bagels instead of pursuing his old occupation as director of non-defense research at the Center for Naval Analyses. He would leave bagels next to a box with a slit in the top in an office building, leaving a sign asking whoever took a bagel to give money in return.
Stephen Joseph Dubner is an American author, journalist, and podcast and radio host. He is co-author of the popular Freakonomics book series and host of Freakonomics Radio.
Emily Fair Oster is an American economist and bestselling author. After receiving a B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard in 2002 and 2006 respectively, Oster taught at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She later moved to Brown University, where she is Professor of Economics. Her research interests span from development economics and health economics to research design and experimental methodology. Her research has received exposure among non-economists through The Wall Street Journal, the SuperFreakonomics bestseller book, and her 2007 TED Talk, among other media sources.
Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh is an American sociologist and urban ethnographer. He is William B. Ransford Professor of Sociology & African-American Studies at Columbia University, a position he has held continuously since 1999. In his work, Venkatesh has studied gangs and underground economies, public housing, advertising and technology. As of 2018, he is the Director of Signal: The Tech & Society Lab at Columbia University.
Freedomnomics: Why the Free Market Works and Other Half-Baked Theories Don't is a book by writer and public policy researcher John R. Lott, Jr., author of previous works More Guns, Less Crime and The Bias Against Guns. Freedomnomics takes an economic look at the effects of the free market, and presents some arguments against those found in Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. The publications The American and National Review ran positive reviews, with critic Robert VerBruggen stating that Lott "renders lots of charts, graphs and statistical analysis into clear, uncomplicated conversation."
Decree 770 was a decree of the communist Romanian government of Nicolae Ceaușescu, signed in 1967. It restricted abortion and contraception, and was intended to create a new and large Romanian population. The term Decreței is used to refer to those Romanians born during the time period immediately following the decree.
Robin Goldstein is an American author, food and wine critic, and economics pundit. He is known for his books and articles questioning conventional wisdom and pricing in the food and wine industries, particularly a widely publicized exposé of Wine Spectator magazine, and for his writing on the Freakonomics blog. He is author of several books, including The Wine Trials and The Beer Trials. Goldstein was also one of the subjects of Think Like a Freak, the 2014 book by Freakonomics authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.
Race is one of the correlates of crime receiving attention in academic studies, government surveys, media coverage, and public concern.
SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance is the second non-fiction book by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and The New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner, released in early October 2009 in Europe and on October 20, 2009 in the United States. It is a sequel to Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.
Freakonomics: The Movie is a 2010 American documentary film based on the 2005 book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by economist Steven D. Levitt and writer Stephen J. Dubner. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2010 with a theatrical release later in the year. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 66% based on reviews from 64 critics.
John J. Donohue III is a law professor, economist, and the C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law at Stanford Law School. He is widely known for his writings on effect of legalized abortion on crime and for his criticism of John Lott's book More Guns, Less Crime.
Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain is the third non-fiction book by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner. The book was published on May 12, 2014 by William Morrow.
The crime drop or crime decline is a pattern observed in many countries whereby rates of many types of crime declined by 50% or more beginning in the mid to late 1980s and early 1990s.