Spousal Labor Market Effects from Government Health Insurance: Evidence from a Veterans Affairs Expansion

Melissa A. Boyle, Joanna N. Lahey

NBER Working Paper No. 20371
Issued in August 2014
NBER Program(s):Economics of Aging, Health Care, Health Economics, Labor Studies, Public Economics

Measuring the overall impact of public health insurance receipt is important in an era of increased access to publicly-provided and subsidized insurance. Although government expansion of health insurance to older workers leads to labor supply reductions for recipients, there may be spillover effects on the labor supply of uncovered spouses. While theory predicts a decrease in overall household work hours, financial incentives such as credit constraints, target income levels, and the need for own health insurance suggest that spousal labor supply might increase. In contrast, complementarities of spousal leisure would predict a decrease in labor supply for both spouses. Utilizing a mid-1990s expansion of health insurance for U.S. veterans, we provide evidence on the effects of public insurance availability on the labor supply of spouses. Using data from the Current Population Survey and Health and Retirement Study, we employ a difference-in-differences strategy to compare the labor market behavior of the wives of older male veterans and non-veterans before and after the VA health benefits expansion. Our findings suggest that although household labor supply may decrease because of the income effect, wives' labor supply increases, suggesting that financial incentives dominate complementarities of spousal leisure. This effect is strongest for wives with lower education levels and lower levels of household wealth. Moreover, wives with employer-provided health insurance in the previous year remain on the job while those without increase their hours, suggesting incentives to retain or obtain health insurance. Finally, non-working wives enter the labor force, those who were working part-time increase their hours, and full-time "career" women are largely unaffected.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20371

Published: Boyle, Melissa A. & Lahey, Joanna N., 2016. "Spousal labor market effects from government health insurance: Evidence from a veterans affairs expansion," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 63-76. citation courtesy of

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