In the hierarchy of earnings, smokers earn the least, but if they quit they could end up top of the table.
New wage gap alert! It seems smokers earn considerably less than their non-smoking counterparts – but ex-smokers are lighting up the field.
People who had quit smoking for at least a year earned more than those who never smoked, or current smokers, according to new research from economists Julie Hotchkiss and Melinda Pitts.
The pair analysed US census data and found those who have never smoked earn 95% of the hourly wages of former smokers, according to their paper published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
Contrastingly, smokers earned about 80% of nonsmokers’ wages, and it took just one cigarette a day to trigger the wage gap, according to the researchers.
“Smoking erodes the value of your human capital in the labor market,” Pitts wrote.
While it’s possible smokers have lower productivity, and therefore earn less, the researchers could not find evidence to support the theory because the frequency at which people smoke doesn’t significantly affect their earnings.
“The idea is that if the productivity was affected by smoking, then heavier smokers would have a much larger wage gap. We didn’t find support for this hypothesis,” Pitts said.
Education level was the largest contributing variable. Nonsmokers tended to be more educated, and were less likely to have spouses who smoke. They were also more likely to live in states with higher cigarette prices. Unmeasured factors like an employer’s tolerance to smoking behavior could also be driving the wage gap
As for the ex-smoker advantage? The researchers suggest the traits required to quit smoking were linked to business skills and productivity.
“It takes a special person to quit an addictive behavior, and there is a higher reward for smoking cessation than not ever starting it,” said Ms. Pitts. “I think the qualities of persistence, patience and everything else that goes along with being able to quit are valuable to employers.”