Working for tips, as anyone who's ever worked in the service industry can tell you, isn't fun. Not only does it mean your take-home pay isn't guaranteed, but tipped workers are also more vulnerable to wage theft, as well as broader physical health issues that come with working in the service industry — an industry that encompasses 102 million Americans. But a new study suggests that relying on tips may raise your risk of depression and other mental health consequences — and this is particularly problematic for women.
The research, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, looked at over 5,000 men and women as they moved from adolescence into adulthood, where they entered the workforce. And the people who worked in tipping industries reported higher levels of depression, stress and sleep issues than those who didn't.
There are a few possible reasons for this, the researchers suggest, one being financial; tipping industries often operate on wages that are below legal minimum wage, on the understanding that the workers will earn the rest of their money via tips. Vox reports that Washington D.C.'s minimum wage is $12.50, but many tipped workers are only guaranteed $3.33 per hour (rising to $5 in 2020), and the rest is expected to be tip-dependent; employers only have to pay the non-tipped minimum wage if the employees don't earn it through tips, meaning that a significant chunk of a tipped worker's salary comes from customers, not their employers.
And that, according to the research, makes life as a tipped worker financially precarious, which can increase the risk of depression and anxiety. Tipped workers, according to the study's lead author Sarah Andrea, M.P.H., a Ph.D. candidate in epidemiology at the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health, experience "lower and unpredictable wages, insufficient benefits, and a lack of control over work hours and assigned shifts. On average, tipped workers are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty relative to untipped workers," she noted in a press release.
That's not the only reason, though. Tipped workers also perform emotional labor as part of their jobs: they put on a happy face and control their own emotions to make sure customers, on whom they depend for their livelihoods, have a good experience. Research has shown that people who do too much emotional labor at work risk "burnout, psychological distress and depression," according to a roundup of research in 2018, because they're suppressing their own emotional needs for those of their customers and employers.
And there's another element: gender. Women in tipped professions who participated in the study were more likely to report depression than those women who'd taken non-tipped work, or men who were also in the service industry. This is a big deal, because women make up the majority of service sector workers in the U.S., according to a 2011 fact sheet from the Department For Professional Employees, and women in the service industry are particularly vulnerable to workplace harassment. The Harvard Business Review noted in 2018 that in the restaurant industry, up to 90 percent of female workers report experiencing sexual harassment or abuse. And workplace harassment, no matter your industry, is linked to its own mental health consequences.
Amid the reasons to eliminate a tipped minimum wage, potential mental health concerns rate high on the list. And more and more services, such as restaurants, are opting to eliminate tips based on this body of research, among other factors. But until that becomes the standard, these health concerns will be a reality faced by over 100 million workers.