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Is Higher Minimum Wage Linked to Lower Adolescent Birth Rates?

Two young people washing dishes in a restaurant.

The Effect of Minimum Wages on Adolescent Fertility: A Nationwide Analysis.” (abstract). Lindsey Rose Bullinger. American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 107, No. 3 (2017).

What it’s about: We know that poverty is linked to increased adolescent birth rates, and increases in the minimum wage are intended to reduce poverty. Author Lindsey Rose Bullinger wanted to learn whether increasing the minimum wage would decrease adolescent birth rates, and if so, by how much. To find out, Bullinger measured birth rates among 15- to 19-year-olds between the last quarter of 2003 through 2014. She compared adolescent birth rates in states whose real (that is, value adjusted for inflation) minimum wage changed during this period of time with rates among the same age cohort in states whose real minimum wage did not change.

During the overall study period, there were 234 changes in state minimum wages; of these, 62 resulted from state policy changes, 103 from federal policy changes, and the remaining 69 from changes in inflation. Bullinger looked at racial and ethnic differences, and controlled for each state’s availability of welfare benefits, contraceptive services, and earned income tax credit, if applicable.

Why read it: The factors that influence adolescent pregnancy rates are complex, ranging from the media, to rural versus urban environments, to income level. This study adds to our understanding of the factors at work by exploring the relationship between minimum wage increases and adolescent pregnancy rates. This study is one of the few to look at the health effects—rather than the labor-market effects—of minimum wage increases, according to the author.

Biggest takeaways from the research: This study provides evidence that higher minimum wages do indeed reduce adolescent birth rates, particularly among non-Hispanic white and Hispanic adolescents.

Hispanic and non-Hispanic white young people experienced a decrease in the birth rate between 2 and 3 percent for every $1 increase in the minimum wage after controlling for other factors. Bullinger writes, “A [two-percent] reduction implies approximately 5,000 fewer infants born to adolescent mothers. To the extent that employment remains stable, increases of more than $1 could prevent even more adolescent births.”

This study showed no significant correlation between minimum wage increases and adolescent pregnancy rates for non-Hispanic African American youth after controlling for other factors. Bullinger writes that this difference may be due in part to the fact that non-Hispanic African American adolescents are less likely to be employed than non-Hispanic white and Hispanic adolescents, and therefore may be less affected by changes in the minimum wage.

Bullinger suggests that more attention be paid to the public health outcomes of raising the minimum wage. She adds that minimum wage and other antipoverty measures may have longer-term benefits beyond the scope of this study, such as better infant and maternal health.

Additional references: Look for more articles about poverty and adolescent pregnancy in our digital library.

Read a Q&A with Bullinger about her study.

Read a summary of research on how socioeconomic factors affect teen pregnancy rates.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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