Researchers look at effects of higher minimum wage on infant birthweight

Published on July 13, 2016

A portrait of George Wehby of the Department of Health Management and Policy at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.
George Wehby

A new study suggests that increasing the minimum wage would lead to an increase in birthweight among babies born to women with low education.

The research team included George Wehby, associate professor of health management and policy at the University of Iowa; Dhaval Dave, professor of economics at Bentley University; and Robert Kaestner, professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Their study, published this month by The National Bureau of Economic Research in the working paper series, used U.S. birth certificate data to compare changes in birth weight in states that increased the minimum wage to birth weight changes in states that did not. The researchers analyzed data on virtually every U.S. birth between 1989 and 2012.

Results showed that increasing the minimum wage by $1 led to a birth weight increase of 11 grams among babies born to women with low education. The increase corresponded to a reduction of 2 percent in low birth weight. Their estimates suggest that raising the federal minimum wage to $15 would increase birth weight by 85 grams.  These estimates indicate meaningful changes in average birth weight. They also find evidence of increase in prenatal care use and decline in prenatal smoking as some potential channels.

The full paper is available here: Effects of the Minimum Wage on Infant Health

Read a Washington Post article about the study here: A simple but controversial law that can make babies healthier