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Consumption Taxes in a Life-Cycle Framework: Are Sin Taxes Regressive?

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  • Andrew B. Lyon
  • Robert M. Schwab

Abstract

In this paper we construct measures of tax incidence over the life-cycle and compare these measures to traditional measures based on annual data. We show that annual measures of the incidence of taxes on consumption goods may differ from life-cycle measures for three reasons. First, annual measures of income reflect transitory components which should have smaller effects on consumption than permanent changes in income. Second, income measured in a single period differs from lifetime income due to age-related differences in earnings. Third, consumption of certain items follows life-cycle patterns independent of changes in income. Surprisingly, we find that these effects cause almost no change in the assessment of the incidence of taxes applying to the consumption of cigarettes. For alcohol, however, we find that a tax on its consumption is slightly less regressive when measured with respect to lifetime income than when measured with respect to annual income.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 3932.

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Date of creation: Dec 1991
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Publication status: published as Review of Economics and Statistics, Vol. 77, no. 3 (1995): 389-406.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3932

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  1. Don Fullerton & Gilbert E. Metcalf, 2001. "Tax Incidence," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 0106, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
    • Fullerton, Don & Metcalf, Gilbert E., 2002. "Tax incidence," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 26, pages 1787-1872 Elsevier.
  2. Becketti, Sean, et al, 1988. "The Panel Study of Income Dynamics after Fourteen Years: An Evaluatio n," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 6(4), pages 472-92, October.
  3. Poterba, J.M., 1990. "Is The Gasoline Tax Regressive?," Working papers 568, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  4. Hall, Robert E & Mishkin, Frederic S, 1982. "The Sensitivity of Consumption to Transitory Income: Estimates from Panel Data on Households," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(2), pages 461-81, March.
  5. Hsiao,Cheng, 2003. "Analysis of Panel Data," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521522717, Fall.
  6. Suits, Daniel B, 1977. "Measurement of Tax Progressivity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 67(4), pages 747-52, September.
  7. Poterba, J.M., 1989. "Lifetime Incidence And The Distributional Burden Of Excise Taxes," Working papers 510, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  8. Lee A. Lillard, 1975. "Inequality: Earnings vs. Human Wealth," NBER Working Papers 0080, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Davies, James B & St-Hilaire, France & Whalley, John, 1984. "Some Calculations of Lifetime Tax Incidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(4), pages 633-49, September.
  10. Fullerton, Don & Rogers, Diane Lim, 1991. "Lifetime Versus Annual Perspectives on Tax Incidence," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 44(3), pages 277-87, September.
  11. Atkinson, A B & Gomulka, J & Stern, N H, 1990. "Spending on Alcohol: Evidence from the Family Expenditure Survey 1970-1983," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 100(402), pages 808-27, September.
  12. Sean Becketti & William Gould & Lee Lillard & Finis Welch, 1985. "The Panel Study of Income Dynamics After Fourteen Years: An Evaluation," UCLA Economics Working Papers 361, UCLA Department of Economics.
  13. Lee, Lung-Fei & Trost, Robert P., 1978. "Estimation of some limited dependent variable models with application to housing demand," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 8(3), pages 357-382, December.
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