Benjamin R. Karney, Jeffrey B. Wenger, Melanie A. Zaber, and Thomas N. Bradbury, Journal of Marriage and Family , 2022
A plastic model of a white and red home sits on top of one hundred dollar bills. (Marcho Verch Professional Photography/flickr/some rights reserved)

Across the United States, campaigns have pushed for higher minimum wages. Many are motivated by the economic benefits of these changes. New research suggests that increasing the minimum wage can also have substantial effects on non-economic domains of life such as marriage rates, family formation, and relationships.

Benjamin Karney and colleagues examined recent data on marriage and divorce rates in cities that had a minimum wage increase of $1 an hour. Their research revealed that small increases in the minimum wage have a significant effect on relationship patterns. Karney and his coauthors uncovered surprising, and somewhat contradictory, patterns.

In cities that raised the minimum wage, for example, there was actually a 5% decrease in marriage rates for men and 4.5% for women. On the other hand, researchers found that divorce rates fell by 10% for men and 7% for women after a year in these same cities.

The authors suggest that these decreasing marriage rates may result from higher minimum wages. When young people are more financially independent they can prolong their search for a better partner. Since marrying later usually results in longer-lasting unions, this change may spell stability for future families. 

Conversely, the researchers speculated that lower divorce rates are also due to worker’s lessened financial stress. By relieving economic concerns, the chances of divorce for couples are lessened.

Increasing minimum wages have many economic benefits. This research show that they also have significant effects on non-economic concerns such as relationships and families. These impacts may differ from our long-held assumptions about relationships. These non-economic changes are important to consider as communities work to raise wages.