Published Work: Measurement

>> View All Published Work

Alternative Estimates of Lifetime Prevalence Of Abortion from Indirect Survey Questioning Methods

Cowan, Sarah K., Lawrence Wu, Susanna Makela*, Paula England

Published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health48: 229–234 (2016)
Abortion is a frequent medical procedure undergone by diverse women in the United States with profound demographic and political implications yet we do not know how many American women alive today have had abortions. We do not know this basic fact because women under-report their abortion histories in surveys. There are a number of well-established techniques to elicit more accurate survey responses to sensitive items. In this comment, we propose that lifetime prevalence estimates for abortion in the United States could be improved through use of these techniques, in particular the double list experiment. We report on a pilot double list experiment we conducted which shows promising results. We also provide unique formulae for determining the appropriate sample sizes needed to detect that the double list experiment has improved accuracy of estimates over those obtained from asking women directly whether they have had an abortion.

Category: Abortion, Measurement


Cohort Abortion Measures for the United States

Cowan, Sarah K.

Published in Population and Development Review 39(2):289–307 (2013)
Demographers interested in abortion in the United States have thus far focused on cross-sectional and synthetic cohort measures, due to data availability. We now have cohorts that have completed their entire reproductive years after the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide. For women who are in the midst of their childbearing years at the conclusion of data collection, I apply the Lee-Carter forecasting technique – its first application in abortion research – to complete their age-specific abortion rates. Using true cohort measures reveals markedly different abortion experiences by cohort. I find stasis in the distribution of abortion by abortion order and the racial composition of abortion incidences. In addition to the substantive findings, cohort measures shift the focus of quantitative abortion research from incidence rates to women’s lives over their reproductive years.

Category: Abortion, Measurement