Introduction of a National Minimum Wage reduced depressive symptoms in low-wage workers: a quasi-natural experiment in the UK

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

April 4, 2016


Does increasing incomes improve health? In 1999, the UK government
implemented minimum wage legislation, increasing hourly wages to at
least £3.60. This policy experiment created intervention and control
groups that can be used to assess the effects of increasing wages on
health. Longitudinal data were taken from the British Household Panel
Survey. We compared the health effects of higher wages on recipients of
the minimum wage with otherwise similar persons who were likely
unaffected because (1) their wages were between 100 and 110% of the
eligibility threshold or (2) their firms did not increase wages to meet
the threshold. We assessed the probability of mental ill health using
the 12-item General Health Questionnaire. We also assessed changes in
smoking, blood pressure, as well as hearing ability (control condition).
The intervention group, whose wages rose above the minimum wage,
experienced lower probability of mental ill health compared with both
control group 1 and control group 2. This improvement represents 0.37 of
a standard deviation, comparable with the effect of antidepressants
(0.39 of a standard deviation) on depressive symptoms. The intervention
group experienced no change in blood pressure, hearing ability, or
smoking. Increasing wages significantly improves mental health by
reducing financial strain in low-wage workers.

Published in

Health Economics






Open Access article

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

© 2016 The Authors. Health Economics published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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