Minimum Wage Impact on Teen Reproduction

In her paper, “The Effect on Minimum Wage on Adolescent Fertility: A Nationwide Analysis” (AJPH Research 2017), Lindsey Bullinger, MPA, PhD candidate from Indiana University, shows that

“An increase of $1 in the minimum wage could decrease teen pregnancy by 2%.”

Bullinger’s research is among some of the first to illustrate the connection between economic disparity and teen pregnancy, an emerging area of focus in crafting a holistic approach to preventing teen pregnancy. The Mass Alliance on Teen Pregnancy (MATP) interviewed Bullinger to get a deeper sense of the scope and implications of her research, as well as the areas that remain to be studied to inform evidence-based public policy and practice.

MATP: Could you briefly explain the method used in your study?

Bullinger: The method is what is referred to as a difference-in-differences approach. The idea here is that state policies don’t all change at the same exact time. So, one state might be changing their minimum wage level while other states are remaining the same.

What this approach does is compares states that had some change in their minimum wage during a particular time period quarter- year to states that did not have a change during that same time period.quarter- year. I compare the teen fertility rate before and after that change, compared to all those other states that didn’t have the same change in minimum wage laws. This method also controls for an abundance of things that might also be correlated with a state’s minimum wage. Things that I control for in this particular analysis include access to contraceptives, access to abortion, and unemployment rates which we know does have an effect on adolescent fertility.

MATP: Is there a cap on results correlated with minimum wage increase? For example, is there a maximum amount in wage increase before we would expect the results to plateau? In Massachusetts, we went from $10 to $11 in January, and a local organizing group, Raise Up Massachusetts is advocating for a $15 minimum wage. Could you make any comment on what we might see happen with a $15 minimum wage?

Bullinger: The results of this study would say that there is a linear relationship between minimum wage and teen fertility. That is, if you increase the minimum wage, you reduce the teen fertility rate. Now, there may be a plateauing or a curve in which it starts to no longer matter. Given this research, I don’t think that many places are to that level because this effect is an overall average effect, found across the board.

MATP: How does increasing the minimum wage impact access to contraceptive coverage?

Bullinger: That is not a question that this study addresses. That would be, I think, an entirely different research question. The mechanism through which minimum wages affect teen fertility is not through access to contraceptives, at least given the evidence presented in the paper., that is not what I believe is happening.

“Minimum wage may affect access to contraceptives in that adolescents that have greater incomes as a result of minimum wages increasing may be more likely to afford contraceptives.”

In terms of access, if nothing else is changing, and if teens, for example, choose to use the money that they’ve earned in other ways, then maybe access isn’t changing. That’s a good question and one that I don’t believe has been answered yet..

MATP: Was there anything that surprised you in the results of your study?

Bullinger: The results support the theory that enhancing opportunities or human capital investments and economic advancements can reduce adolescent parenthood. The effects were especially prominent for non-Hispanic white and Hispanic adolescents, but not for non-Hispanic black adolescents. They were less affected than other racial or ethnic groups. Initially, this was kind of surprising, so I dug a little bit deeper and I found that —

“Non-Hispanic black adolescents are less likely to benefit from increases in the minimum wage than white and Hispanic adolescents.”

MATP: That is a very interesting and a surprising finding. MATP is committed to addressing racial inequality in our work. This will be an area that will dig deeper into. We are particularly interested in understanding how racial inequalities that lead to income inequalities and education attainment impact teen pregnancy rates.

MATP: Are there any other root causes specific to economic empowerment that you think should be studied in thinking about preventing teen pregnancy?

Bullinger: The United States has a much higher adolescent birth rate than any other developed country in the world.

“There’s this theory in the economics literature that the United States has a much higher adolescent birth rate than any other developed country in the world, and so a small group of scholars argue that the reason for this is because adolescents do not feel that they have economic advancement opportunities.”

Instead of investing in their economic futures, they opt into adolescent childbearing since there’s no reason to delay parenthood. I think any research that addresses this question will be particularly helpful. I think this paper is evidence for that theory., and so if other papers can come up with similar kinds of research designs and research questions that help to address this question then together this group of research papers could make a nice contribution to the bigger picture.

The results support the theory that enhancing opportunities or human capital investments and economic advancements can reduce adolescent parenthood.

What do you think about these finding? What role do you think economic inequality has to play preventing teen pregnancy, among other social determinants of health? Share your thoughts below —

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