The minimum wage is an important determinant of earnings among lower-skilled parents and may have implications for their children’s living arrangements. We used nationally representative data to examine associations between the minimum wage and fathers’ residence with their biological children. Results revealed no association between the minimum wage and father residence among all low-income families. However, this finding masks important heterogeneity within these families based on which parent’s earnings were sensitive to minimum wage levels. In families where only fathers’ earnings were sensitive to minimum wage levels, fathers were more likely to live with their children as minimum wages increased, consistent with research that shows the importance of economic stability for fathers’ residence and custody arrangements. In contrast, in families where only mothers’ earnings were sensitive to minimum wage levels, higher minimum wages were negatively associated with fathers’ residence, consistent with theories of maternal independence. These associations with residence were not observed in situations where both parents’ earnings were sensitive to the minimum wage. Results indicate that these economic policies may be consequential for family processes and well-being in key subsets of low-earning families.
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These pathways are not exhaustive, and we acknowledge the possibility that there may be other ways in which the minimum wage might affect men’s residence that we could not capture with our data.
As a nationally representative survey, the ASEC includes most types of family and non-family households. Our sample included the following family types: married biological mothers and fathers, cohabiting (unmarried) biological mothers and fathers, biological mothers with married or cohabiting partners without shared biological children (stepfathers), biological fathers with married or cohabiting partners without shared biological children (stepmothers), single biological mothers, and single biological fathers. While many children do not live with a biological parent, this population is more difficult to identify accurately and consistently in the CPS and was thus excluded from the present analysis.
The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study (FFCWS) was established in part to explicitly address this problem by both interviewing nonresident fathers and collecting detailed information about nonresident parents from the resident parent. While FFCWS has been provided valuable insights on families by incorporating nonresident fathers, it lacks the generalizability, sample sizes, periodicity, and representation across states that were necessary to identify the effects of state policy changes in our study.
Parents were considered unemployed if they were participants in the labor force but not currently working. Labor force participation was defined as having worked in the prior year or reporting not being able to find work as the reason for not working in the prior year.
Findings were robust to alternative definitions of parents with wages up to 1.5 times the minimum wage using earnings alone or only the first criterion of earnings and employment. Findings were not robust to using education levels as a proxy for minimum wage earnings, however. Supplemental analyses (available on request) indicated that that higher minimum wages were not associated with parental earnings when using education levels as a proxy for wages, but were associated with higher earnings when using any earnings-based definition in a way consistent with findings presented in Table 4. Our findings are thus only generalizable to families in which parental earnings rise as minimum wage levels increase, but not to all low socioeconomic status families defined using education or skill level. The implications of this limitation are addressed in detail in the discussion.
For example, MMW families could take any of the following forms: 1) coresident biological parents in which the biological father is not sensitive to the minimum wage because he is either out of the labor market or has higher earnings; or 2) mothers living apart from their child’s biological father who is not sensitive to the minimum wage. This second group of mothers could be single mothers living with a partner with whom they do not share children, or living with other relatives or roommates.
This simple classification obscures some nuances of multi-partner fertility, as parents may live with some biological children but not others or live with both biological and step children. Thus, a two-biological parent household could include various types of complex family structures as long as a couple has at least one shared biological child in the household. For example, these households could include fathers who live with one biological child but apart from another, or step-children living apart from their own biological fathers but with the biological father of a younger half-sibling. Our approach prioritized parents’ current relationships, rather than the experiences of children or relationship trajectories, consistent with our theoretical conceptualization of how the minimum wage could impact family structure. On the other hand, this approach could have masked heterogeneity in family dynamics.
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We are grateful for the early feedback of James Ziliak and Robert Plotnick provided at the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management conference.
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Dwyer Emory, A., Miller, D.P., Nepomnyaschy, L. et al. The Minimum Wage and Fathers’ Residence with Children. J Fam Econ Iss (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10834-020-09691-y
- Father residence
- Minimum wage policy
- Maternal independence
- Paternal custody
- Low-income families
- Living arrangements