Date of Award

Summer 8-20-2021

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




Jonathan Rubin

Second Committee Member

Caroline Noblet

Third Committee Member

Angela Daley


A sharp income-health gradient exists in the United States. Lower levels of income are associated with higher rates of mortality, morbidity, and risky health behaviors, as well as decreased access to health care. Growing evidence of a causal link between income and health suggests that government income-support policies may be an effective strategy for improving health outcomes among poor Americans. One such policy – the minimum wage – has experienced a surge in popularity in recent years. In 2019, twenty-five states and the District of Columbia increased their minimum wage, up from only eight states in 2011. Yet the literature on the public health implications of minimum wage increases is still nascent. Using a rich dataset drawn from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), I examine the effects of recent minimum wage increases in the United States on the self-reported health of low-educated workers.

In Chapter 1, I use 2011-2019 BRFSS data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia and a continuous difference-in-differences design to quantify the effects of state-level minimum wage increases on self-reported measures of general health status, poor physical health days, and poor mental health days among men and women. My results, which are robust to several sample definitions, functional forms, and statistical modeling approaches, imply that higher minimum wages induce large positive effects on women’s general and physical health. I also uncover weaker evidence that higher minimum wages may harm men’s mental health.

In Chapter 2, I provide estimates of the heterogeneous impacts of the minimum wage across rural and nonrural settings. Though the large and persistent health gap between rural and non-rural areas in the U.S. has been extensively documented, its relationship with the minimum wage has not been previously investigated. Using 2011-2014 BRFSS data from 49 states and the District of Columbia and a continuous difference-in-differences design, I find large disparities in the health effects of the minimum wage by sex and place of residence. Higher minimum wages induce large reductions in the self-reported general and mental health of rural men and no detectable change in the health of nonrural men. Some ambiguity exists among rural women, for whom the minimum wage improves general health but substantially increases the number of poor mental health days reported. Benefits of higher minimum wages accrue mainly to non-rural women, who report better general and physical health.

These findings illustrate the need for policymakers to carefully consider heterogeneous impacts on outcomes beyond employment when contemplating changes to the minimum wage.