Former Smokers Earn More Than Current Smokers or Those Who Never Smoked: Study

CORRECTION: Sometimes we make mistakes and yesterday we misreported that “former smokers earn more than those who quit….” We’ve since updated the copy below. Sorry for the error.

Former smokers earn more on average than current smokers or those who never smoked, a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta concludes.

The new study is based on data from the Tobacco Use Supplement to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, which covers 1992 to 2011. The study found people who gave up smoking or who never smoked earn about 95 percent of the hourly wages of former smokers, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The economists who conducted the study say how often people smoke does not significantly affect their wages. “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,” said co-author M. Melinda Pitts.

Different characteristics of smokers and nonsmokers, such as their level of education, contribute to the wage gap, they found. Nonsmokers tend to have higher levels of education, to live in states with higher cigarette prices, and are less likely to be married to a smoker.

People who quit smoking have traits that are highly valued in the labor market, Ms. Pitts said. “It takes a special person to quit an addictive behavior, and there is a higher reward for smoking cessation than not ever starting it,” she said. “I think the qualities of persistence, patience and everything else that goes along with being able to quit are valuable to employers.”

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