IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The Unexpected Long-Run Impact of the Minimum Wage: An Educational Cascade


  • Richard Sutch


Neglected, but significant, the long-run consequence of the minimum wage - which was made national policy in the United States in 1938 - is its stimulation of capital deepening. This took two forms. First, the engineered shortage of low-skill, low-paying jobs induced teenagers to invest in additional human capital - primarily by extending their schooling - in an attempt to raise their productivity to the level required to gain employment. Second, employers faced with an inability to legally hire low-wage workers, rearranged their production processes to substitute capital for low-skill labor and to innovate new technologies. This paper explores the impact of the minimum wage on enrollments between 1950 and 2003. I describe an upward ratcheting mechanism which triggers an "educational cascade." My estimate is that the average number of years of high school enrollment would have risen to only 3.5 years, rather than 3.7 years, for men born in 1951. Thereafter, enrollment rates would have trended down to about 3.2 years for the cohort born in 1986, rather than slowly rising to around 3.9 years. The cumulative effect of the minimum wage increases beginning in 1950 was to add 0.7 years to the average high school experience of men born in 1986.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard Sutch, 2010. "The Unexpected Long-Run Impact of the Minimum Wage: An Educational Cascade," NBER Working Papers 16355, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16355
    Note: DAE

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lawrence F. Katz & Alan B. Krueger, 1992. "The Effect of the Minimum Wage on the Fast-Food Industry," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 46(1), pages 6-21, October.
    2. Brown, Charles & Gilroy, Curtis & Kohen, Andrew, 1982. "The Effect of the Minimum Wage on Employment and Unemployment," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 20(2), pages 487-528, June.
    3. Joshua L. Rosenbloom & William A. Sundstrom, 2009. "Labor-Market Regimes in U.S. Economic History," NBER Working Papers 15055, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Frank Levy & Peter Temin, 2007. "Inequality and Institutions in 20th Century America," NBER Working Papers 13106, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. James J. Heckman & John Eric Humphries & Paul A. LaFontaine & Pedro L. Rodríguez, 2012. "Taking the Easy Way Out: How the GED Testing Program Induces Students to Drop Out," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 30(3), pages 495-520.
    6. Katz, L.F. & Krueger, A.B, 1991. "The Effect Of The New Minimum Wage Law In A Low-Wage Labor Market," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1544, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Stiglitz, Joseph E., 2015. "Leaders and followers: Perspectives on the Nordic model and the economics of innovation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 127(C), pages 3-16.
    2. Zsófia L. Bárány, 2016. "The Minimum Wage and Inequality: The Effects of Education and Technology," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 34(1), pages 237-274.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I28 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Government Policy
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J3 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • J48 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Particular Labor Markets; Public Policy
    • J8 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Standards
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • N42 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16355. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.