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CELEBRATE! profile: Justin Bellinger

An economics major explores how a person's mental health can impact their paycheck. 

​CELEBRATE! Week offers an annual opportunity to highlight the academic and artisitic achievements of Elon students and faculty. Each day this week, we'll be putting the spotlight on a student scholar's research — what they are seeking to find out, and how they became interested in their project. 

Name: Justin C. Bellinger

Area of study: Economics

Major: Economics

Minor: Biology

Faculty mentor: Steve DeLoach, professor of economics

Title of research: The Impact of Mental Health on Wages


According to the National Institute of Mental Health, out of the 18.1 percent of adults who suffer from some form of mental illness in the U.S., just over half receive any form of treatment. While it is widely accepted that health is a determinant of wages for diverse populations such as the elderly and pregnant women, there is little research on the impact of health on wages of all labor force participants. Specifically, there has been very little research on the impact of mental health on wages.

Previous literature describes health affecting wages in two different ways. One, it will decrease hours worked which will lead to a decrease in total earnings, or two, it will lead to a lower accumulation of human capital in the form of lower education or experience due to missing school or work. Data is sourced from the 1997 National Longitudinal Study, which provided mental health measures of individuals as youths and adults. To serve as a proxy for mental health, a depression index is created.

I utilize a modified Mincer Model introduced by Contoyannis and Rice (2000) that explains wages as a function of education, experience, mental health, and the effect of other variables. To control for the endogeneity between mental health and wages I use a Two-Stage least squared (2SLS) regression analysis. The results suggest that poor mental health will have lasting negative and significant effects on an individual’s wage.

In other words:

Individuals who suffer from poor mental health/depression, on average, make less income than those who do not.
Explanation of study:

This study looks at how mental health will effect an individual’s wage. The 1997 National Longitudinal Study provides data on over 8,000 individuals from the years 1997 to 2013, through which I was able to obtain information on annual income, mental health, household, and employment information. From this information, I created a depression index that scored individuals on their mental health based on survey responses. My findings suggest a negative relationship between mental health and wages. Those who scored higher on the depression index (the higher the score, the more depressed) had less income than those with lower scores.

What made this research interesting to you? How did you get started?

Throughout my college career, my interest has been in health care. After switching majors from biology to economics in the fall of my year, I took a class on Health Economics that sparked my interest in the intersection of my new and old major. After that class, I knew I wanted to research a health-related topic.

As I began, I found my focus on general physical health and how that would affect an individual’s wages. But while reading some previous works on the topic, I noticed a void in what has already been done. There was almost no research on mental health and economic outcomes.

Being on a college campus, discussions on mental health are very common. This led me to research mental health’s effect on wages to provide a study that was not only interesting to myself and those in the field of economics, but could be relatable to my peers as well.

Owen Covington,
4/24/2017 11:30 AM