The Effects of Minimum Wages on (Almost) Everything? A Review of Recent Evidence on Health and Related Behaviors
The effects of minimum wages on employment, wages, earnings, and incomes, have been studied and debated for decades. In recent years, however, researchers have turned to the effects on a multitude of other behaviors and outcomes – largely related to health. I review and assess the large and growing body of evidence on minimum wage effects on a wide variety of health outcomes and health-related behaviors.
The evidence on overall physical health is mixed. The findings on diet and obesity either point to beneficial or null effects, but not negative effects, while other evidence indicates that higher minimum wages increase smoking and reduce exercise. The evidence for mental health is ambiguous, with somewhat more studies finding no impact than finding a positive impact (but none finding a negative impact). And the evidence for suicide points clearly to beneficial effects of higher minimum wages. Studies on family structure and children point in different directions, with evidence that mothers spend more time with children, no clear indication of changes in treatment of children, but declines in children’s test scores. The evidence generally points to minimum wages increasing risky behavior (drinking and smoking). Evidence on the effects of minimum wages on crime is mixed. The best evidence on employer-provided health insurance is more adverse, although Medicaid expansions under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may have mitigated this influence, and there is not clear evidence of greater unmet medical needs. Other evidence suggests that higher minimum wages may affect health adversely via different channels.
I am also affiliated with IZA and CESifo. I am grateful to Tim Bruckner, Jeffrey Clemens, and Jonathan Meer for helpful comments, and to Allison Emory, Laetitia Lebihan, and Melvin Livingston for clarifying discussions about their papers. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.