Modeling Social Processes–Abortion in Cross-national Comparison

Thanks to a post by Zoe and Geoff, I decided to use the social fact of variation in abortion rates from country to country as the inspiration for class discussion today on the modeling process in social sciences. First, the data* (listing only the top and bottom 10–the US is 30th (out of 90 countries with data available) with a rate of 23.9% in 2003):

Country

Year

%

Russia

2005

52.5

Greenland

2004

50.2

Bosnia and Herzegovina

1988

48.9

Estonia

2004

47.4

Romania

2004

46.9

Belarus

2004

44.6

Hungary

2004

42.0

Guadeloupe

2005

41.4

Ukraine

2004

40.4

Bulgaria

2004

40.3

Suriname

1994

3.0

Puerto Rico

2001

2.2

Malta

2004

1.7

Qatar

2004

1.3

Portugal

2005

0.8

Venezuela

1968

0.8

Mexico

2003

0.2

Poland

2004

0.06

Panama

2000

0.02

Chile

1991

0.02

Now, according to Lave and March, the next step in the model-building process is to consider a social process that would lead to this outcome. There were three potential answers given in class, which correspond to three categories of explanation that we will address throughout the course:

1) Cultural–it would seem that religion is very important to individuals in the countries with the lowest rates. Most of these countries are strongly Catholic and the Church’s official policies are strongly anti-abortion (pro-life). Thus, individuals in these societies are inculcated with a strong view of what to do in the case of an unwanted pregnancy.

2) Rational Choice–one of the groups argued that the decision to abort (or not) a fetus was made on the basis of strategic calculations of self-interest. The countries at the bottom, these students argued, were agricultural and poorer, and children are needed as a source of labor for the household, as a future hedge against retirement for parents who live in societies with a poorly developed social welfare state, with little hope of receiving retirement funds from the government.

3) Institutional–rules, laws, regulations. Some students argued that some countries (like Chile) have laws making abortion illegal, thus either lowering the number overall, or decreasing the incentive for those having illegal abortions to report them to the official authorities.

That was great work; give yourselves a pat on the back or a round of applause.

The third step in the modeling process is, then, to tease out further implications of your preferred hypothesis above. Let’s go back to the cultural explanation. If it’s true that the Catholic Church has a tremendous impact on people’s views of what is right and wrong then, as one student asked, “wouldn’t it also be the case that divorce levels in these countries should be lower than divorce levels in the countries at the top of the list (since the Catholic Church also frowns upon divorce) ?

Continue reading “Modeling Social Processes–Abortion in Cross-national Comparison”

Voter Turnout Across the World

O’Neil (in Chapter 6) argues that democracies are institutionalized through the institutions of participation, competition, and liberty.  The most common form of participation in democracies is voting in elections.  Yet, the general sense seems to be that voters are turning out to vote in ever smaller numbers over the years.  Do the data bear that out?

The IGO IDEA–The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance–has a fantastic website dedicated to, amongst other things, tracking voter turnout levels in elections around the world. Referring to the map below, we see that voter turnout levels differ from country to country. Why might this be the case? This observation could be used as the first step in demonstrating Lave and March’s four-step process of modeling social and political phenomena. Thus, step one (“observe a social fact”) is voter turnout levels are higher in some countries and lower in others. Step two, then, requires us to consider a social process that could have accounted for this variation in outcomes. Can you think of a social process that can account for the findings on the map below?

world_voter_turnout1.jpg

Here are some important findings from IDEA’s report on world voter turnout trends.  For a complete list of data for each respective country, go here.

  • High turnout is not solely the property of established democracies in the West. Of the top 10 countries in the 1990s only three were Western European democracies.
  • Turnout across the globe rose steadily between 1945 and 1990 – increasing from 61% in the 1940s to 68% in the 1980s. But post-1990 the average has dipped back to 64%.
  • Since 1945 Western Europe has maintained the highest average turnout (77%), and Latin America the lowest (53%), but turnout need not necessarily reflect regional wealth. North America and the Caribbean have the third lowest turnout rate, while Oceania and the former Soviet states of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Central Eastern Europe are respectively second and third highest in the regional league table over this period.
  • The overall average turnout in the post-war period for established democracies is 73%, which contrasts with an average of 58% for all other countries. However, turnout rates in both established and non-established democracies have been converging over time.
  • Out of the 81 countries which had first and subsequent elections between 1945 and 1997, the average turnout in first elections (61%) is actually lower than the average for subsequent elections (62%). This represents a mixed pattern backed up by the fact that turnout in 41 countries dropped between the first and second elections but turnout actually rose in another 40 countries.