Panel Paper: Saying, I Don't: The Effect of the Affordable Care Act Young Adult Provision on Marriage

Thursday, November 6, 2014 : 10:55 AM
Ballroom A (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Joelle Abramowitz, U.S. Census Bureau
This paper investigates the effect of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) young adult provision on individuals’ propensity to marry.  The provision expanded eligibility for young adults to obtain health insurance coverage through their parents’ plans.  There is reason to believe that the prospect of obtaining health insurance coverage could be an important consideration for individuals’ decisions about whether to marry.  This is because one avenue for obtaining health insurance is through becoming a dependent on a spouse’s insurance plan.  This may not be an important channel for individuals who obtain their own coverage through their employers or government programs like Medicaid and Medicare.  However, many individuals are not eligible to obtain coverage through these sources.  As a result, these individuals may not be able to afford to purchase coverage or may purchase a suboptimal amount of coverage on their own, and the prospect of obtaining any or more affordable coverage may induce these individuals to marry.  This could come about through single individuals searching (at all or with more effort) for a spouse; it could also come about through coupled but unmarried individuals deciding to marry.  If young adults consider health insurance coverage in their marriage decisions and become more eligible to obtain insurance outside of marriage following the ACA provision, we would expect the provision to be associated with a decrease in their probability of marrying. 

To investigate the effect of the provision on individuals’ propensity to marry, analyses apply difference-in-differences-type methods using 2008 through 2012 American Community Survey (ACS) one-year data.  The paper exploits variation by age and over time in young adults’ eligibility for coverage through parents’ plans to examine the effect of the provision on the likelihood of an individual to have married within the past year. 

Results suggest that the implementation of the ACA young adult provision is associated with a decrease in the likelihood of marrying for young adults at ages covered by the provision.  Findings are robust to the choice of treatment and control groups of alternate ages and the inclusion of various controls for time trends.  Further results suggest implementation of the provision is associated with decreases in cohabitation and geographic mobility and a marginally significant increase in the probability of divorce.  

This paper builds on the literature considering the determinants of individuals’ marriage decisions and timing, the literature examining the effects of policy changes on marriage behavior and family structure, and the literature exploring the effects of the ACA young adult provision. 

Full Paper: