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How Obamacare helped millennials chill out

Being able to stay on a parent's plan gives kids the breathing space to figure out the future they want most.

Young people love healthcare! (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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If you're a young person right out of college, you might not be quite sure what to do with your life yet. You might want to spend more time figuring that out, but you can't afford to take a break from work to do so, because you need health insurance — and having a job is the only way to get it.

That was the situation for Americans between the ages of 19 and 26, 30 percent of whom didn't have health insurance before 2010, when the Affordable Care Act went into effect. Although young people have been slow to sign up on their own, insurance plans have to cover dependent children through age 26, resulting in increased coverage— and a lot more young people who don't necessarily have to work in order to have access to health care. New research suggests that some of those young people are taking advantage of the newfound freedom, and are feeling pretty good about it.

The study, from Gregory Colman of Pace University and Dhaval Dave at Bentley University, uses American Time Use Survey data to figure out how people in different age brackets shifted the composition of their day between 2003 and 2013. It finds that as the number of young people on their parents' health plans has grown, a few of them— less than five percent — have also dropped out of the workforce.

Now, some businesses might say that the added burden of coverage makes it hard for them to hire more people, resulting in higher youth joblessness, which can't be a good thing. But the study's authors think they've find a way to disprove that idea: Those who got covered on their parents plans self-report higher degrees of satisfaction and well-being than those who didn't.

"If the changes we were picking up were involuntary, we would see a decrease in well-being," explains Dave, one of the co-authors.

That's not the only outcome of having health insurance. The Time Use Survey also shows that young people covered under the parents' plans spent less time waiting for treatment, possibly because they rely less on emergency rooms for primary care.

With less urgency to enter the workforce and fewer minutes wasted in doctors' offices, young people with some extra time on their hands. Predictably, they didn't spend much of it shopping; people who are working less also tend to have less disposable income. Instead, they spent more of it going to school, searching for jobs, socializing, and exercising, as the charts below show.

All that would suggest that the Affordable Care Act is accomplishing one of its original goals: Allowing young people to escape jobs they don't particularly like, and instead take extra time to look for better ones, or acquire the skills they would need to get one.

Or just chill out.