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Whither the Marriage Tax?

James Alm () and J. Sebastian Leguizamon ()

National Tax Journal, 2015, vol. 68, issue 2, 251-280

Abstract: We use household data from the Current Population Survey to calculate how the real value of the so-called “marriage tax” or “marriage subsidy” in the federal individual income tax has changed over the period 1969 to 2009. We examine three issues: the magnitude of the marriage tax/subsidy and its evolution over time, its effects on the distribution of income (including the effects of different demographic characteristics on the magnitudes and trends), and the causal factors in its evolution (e.g., tax changes, demographic changes). We find that the tax treatment of the family has changed significantly over time, from a large average marriage bonus in 1969, to a large marriage tax in much of the 1990s and early 2000s, to a large marriage subsidy since 2003. We also find that the marriage tax varies significantly and systematically by income level, as well as by the number of children in the family, the earnings ratios of the spouses, the race of the family, and the age of the household head. Finally, we find that changes in income and family composition have influenced the magnitudes and trends of marriage taxes and subsidies, but that adjustments in the federal income tax code account for most of the observed changes.

Date: 2015
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