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Smokers Earn Less Money, Report Finds

Update Date: Aug 05, 2013 11:43 AM EDT

Cigarettes harm the smoker in more ways than one. Not only do cigarettes kill people slowly, it also takes a toll on one's financial life. Previous studies have found that smokers were willing to cut out certain items from their lives as well as their children's lives in order to afford cigarettes. Not only does purchasing cigarettes cut into one's wallet, a new paper reports that this habit also affects one's salary. According to this new study, researchers found that smokers generally make around 20 percent less than nonsmokers.

For this study, economists Julie Hotchkiss and Melinda Pitts from the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta looked into the effects of smoking on salaries and wages. They reviewed data on the incomes of smokers and nonsmokers and calculated that smokers earned only about 80 percent of what nonsmokers earned. The researchers found that both regular and social smokers experienced this wage difference. Regular smokers smoked around a pack a day where as social smokers only smoked in the presence of others. Regardless of the difference in the number of cigarettes smoked each day, both types ended up earning less money than nonsmokers.

"It is simply that fact that someone smokes that matters in the labor market, not the level of intensity," the authors of the report wrote. "Even one cigarette per day is enough to trigger the smoking wage gap."

Despite this find, the researchers calculated that if smokers were to quit the nasty habit they could end up earning seven percent more than people who never picked up a cigarette. The researchers attributed this wage jump to the fact that it takes a lot of discipline to quit smoking. This discipline would translate over to how the person handles his or her job.

"That discipline is useful in the workplace as far as focus on projects and tasks, expectations of similar discipline from subordinates, or simply the discipline for good attendance," George Boué, an expert with the Society for Human Resource Management and vice president of human resources at commercial real estate firm Stiles, said. "It takes a whole lot of perseverance to stop an addictive behavior, and perhaps that transfers over into labor market behavior as well."

The researchers noted that the lowered income smokers made was not due to their level of productivity. People who smoked were as productive as nonsmokers and in some cases, even more productive. Due to this inconsistency, the researchers theorized that nonsmokers were more likely to be educated, which would result in a higher salary. They reasoned that 60 percent of the pay gap was due to the demographic differences, which would include education level. The researchers also provided other reasons, such as tolerance for smoking within the work setting and the different personality traits between smokers and nonsmokers.

"The wage disadvantage to smoking has been well documented...[but] hard to believe that the direct unpleasantness of smoking is the main factor," an economics professor from the University of Michigan's Population Studies Center, Frank Stafford said according to NBC News. "We suggest that [pay gap could be tied to] something about the persistent smoker's lack of self-control and the inability to quit."

Based from this report, if smokers want to make more money, quitting the habit could be the answer. 

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