LOS ANGELES, Calif. — More dollars will lead to less divorce, according to a new study. A collaboration between UCLA psychologists and RAND economists claims to have uncovered a new, effective way to cut down on the number of divorces among low-income Americans: Raise the minimum wage.
This is the first project ever to examine the impact of a state’s minimum wage increases on local marriage and divorce rates among low-income earners.
“When policymakers think about ways of helping disadvantaged families, there has been a general tendency to try teaching them things like better communication or coping skills,” says lead study author and UCLA psychology professor Benjamin Karney in a university release. “The assumption that the consequences of income inequality can be managed this way has been proven wrong again and again.”
“Luckily, there are other, more direct avenues to improving the lives of disadvantaged families, and one is to pursue policies that improve their lives in concrete ways.”
The federal government has devoted nearly $1 billion to helping low-income families stay together in recent years, and the Republican subcommittee of the Senate Joint Economic Committee just recently published a report expressing their commitment to combating the issue. Thus far most of those expensive efforts, which largely focused on teaching better relationship communication skills, have produced middling results at best.
$1 can save your marriage?
This latest work, however, discovered that a when a state raises their minimum wage by just $1 per hour, divorce rates decline by seven to 15 percent over the following two years among low-income men and women.
Additionally, an increase in a state’s minimum wage by $1 also appears to foster a different effect — new marriage rates decline by three to six percent. Study co-author Thomas Bradbury, a UCLA psychology professor, explains that when young low-earners start making more money, they tend to delay marriage as opposed to avoiding marriage entirely.
“Raising the minimum wage appears to bring the marital timing of low-wage earners more in line with the timing of more affluent people, who tend to marry at older ages,” Prof. Bradbury says, noting that these marriages are usually less likely to end in divorce.
What do lower divorce rates and later marriages have in common?
In the majority of cases, they strengthen low-income families’ overall situations. Moreover, these benefits take hold more consistently and in a faster fashion in comparison to federal programs focusing on communication or coping skills.
“When the lives of poorer families get easier — that is, when they can be less poor — relationships within the family get easier as well, without anyone needing to be taught anything,” Prof. Karney adds. “Any policies that address income inequality are likely to have measurable benefits for family stability.”
Researchers analyzed two datasets collected between 2004 and 2015 for this project. The first was provided by the Current Population Survey, a mostly telephone-based poll featuring roughly 60,000 households in various populous areas. The other dataset came via the American Community Survey, a primarily mail-based survey of about 300,000 households. Only people between the ages of 18 and 35 participated in this research, as those age groups constitute the majority of low-income earners.
Study authors made it a point to mention that between 2002 and 2015 seven U.S. states never raised their minimum wages unless federally mandated to do so. Those states were Wyoming, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, North Dakota, and Oklahoma.
“Financial considerations play a substantial role in whether couples consider their relationships worth maintaining,” Prof. Karney concludes. “Economic stress and financial strain predict less satisfying and less stable marriages, and higher levels of poverty and consumer debt predict a greater risk of divorce.”
For this work, study authors considered anyone making $20 per hour or less a low-income worker. They clarify, however, that the results would have been largely the same even if they had lowered that threshold to $16 per hour.
The study is published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.