CCHE Seminar Series: The Affordable Care Act, marriage penalties and marital status

Lauren Jones

The Ohio State University

Friday December 4, 2020, 10am-12pm, Zoom

Abstract: Policies that decouple benefits from marriage are said to be marriage neutral, and create equal access to the economic, social and health advantages of marriage, as well as the freedom for all people to opt out if they choose. In the United States, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provided publicly funded and subsidized health insurance to millions of Americans. However, because of program eligibility and generosity rules – which vary nonlinearly with family size – the ACA is not marriage neutral. Depending on a couple’s income level, income distribution across partners, family size, state of residence, and age, ACA insurance benefits may grow or shrink if the couple chooses to marry, creating so-called marriage penalties. In this study, we explore marriage penalties imposed by the ACA by simulating marriage subsidies and penalties for various couple types. Then, using data from the American Community Survey (ACS), we explore whether the ACA marriage penalties causally affect marriage decisions. We find that a 1,000 USD increase marriage penalty reduces marriage rates among couples by about 2 percentage points, or by about 3 percent. We estimate larger effects among less educated couples, and when we include singles (whom we match with potential partners using a simulated marriage market). Our results suggest that one flaw of the ACA is that it does not achieve marriage neutrality in its benefit structure.

Lauren Jones is an Assistant Professor of Consumer Science at The Ohio State University. She conducts quantitative, policy-based research on child and family wellbeing, especially in the areas of health and household economics. Her work has been featured in high-quality academic journals, such as the Journal of Health Economics and the Journal of Applied Econometrics, selective conferences, and the media. Before joining OSU, Lauren completed a post-doctoral fellowship in inequality and social mobility at the Martin Prosperity Institute at University of Toronto. Lauren completed her B.A. in philosophy at the University of Toronto, an M.S. in applied economics at OSU and her Ph.D. in Policy Analysis at Cornell University.