New research has found that a 10 percent increase in earnings leads to about a five percent drop in smoking rates among male workers with a high school education or less.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California (UC) Davis Health System, is published in the Annals of Epidemiology.
“Our findings are especially important as inflation-adjusted wages for low-income jobs have been dropping for decades and the percentage of workers in low-paying jobs has been growing nationwide,” said study senior author Paul Leigh, Ph.D., professor of public health sciences and researcher with the Center for Healthcare Policy and Research at UC Davis.
“Increasing the minimum wage could have a big impact on a significant health threat.”
While smoking rates are declining in the U.S., it still remains the leading cause of preventable death from illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer.
The researchers conducted the study to find out if an increase in salary could lower the number of employees who smoke. They evaluated data on wages, smoking status, and state of residence for full-time employees aged 21 to 65 years from the 1999 to 2009 Panel Study of Income Dynamics.
They excluded workers under 21, since wage variation is small for this age group. They also excluded those who never smoked, as the goal was to evaluate influences on quitting rather than starting smoking.
“We assume that people begin smoking for reasons other than wages,” said Leigh. “About 90 percent of smokers in the United States started smoking before age 20, so the data captured a sample of most full-time workers who have ever smoked.”
The researchers used a statistical model in their evaluation, called instrumental variables analysis, that is traditionally applied in economics. The technique is designed to mimic a randomized, controlled medical study to determine the effectiveness of a particular treatment.
Changes in the “treatment,” which in this case was wages, were measured for each year and then compared to smoking rates the following year. This showed the role of wage increases on smoking reduction among men and the less educated.
The findings showed that smoking prevalence was lower overall in states with higher minimum wages or higher rates of unionization.
Smoking rates for women were not influenced by wages, however, and smoking rates for men were not influenced by any additional household income. The researchers hypothesize that men may be more likely to tie self-worth to pay, increasing the likelihood of risky health behaviors among men in lower-paying jobs.
“Our findings add to the existing body of epidemiological literature showing that lower income predicts poor health habits,” Leigh said. “They also show that higher minimum wages could reduce the prevalence of smoking.”
Source: UC Davis Health System