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Optimal Taxation and Tax Reform for Two-Earner Households


  • Patricia Apps
  • Ray Rees


This article is concerned with the question of how two-earner households should be taxed. One reason for the importance of this issue is simply the quantitative significance of households formed around couples. A second reason is that the economic theory of optimal taxation and tax reform, at least as it is presented in the mainstream literature, provides little guidance on this issue, resting as it does on models of the single person household. An old insight in the earlier public finance literature is that any discussion of the taxation of two-person households necessarily involves the recognition of the importance of household production. In this article, we analyse optimal linear taxation and tax reform to put the 'conventional wisdom', which says that it is optimal to tax women on a separate, lower tax schedule than men, on a firmer basis. We also discuss some recent literature on the non-linear taxation of two-earner households. What emerges clearly from the analysis is how centrally important the relationship between productivity in household production and female labour supply really is, and how little we know about it empirically. (JEL codes: H21, H31, H33) Copyright The Author 2011. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Ifo Institute for Economic Research, Munich. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email:, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Patricia Apps & Ray Rees, 2011. "Optimal Taxation and Tax Reform for Two-Earner Households," CESifo Economic Studies, CESifo, vol. 57(2), pages 283-304, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:cesifo:v:57:y:2011:i:2:p:283-304

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. repec:hal:cesptp:hal-00966801 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Spencer Bastani, 2013. "Gender-based and couple-based taxation," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 20(4), pages 653-686, August.
    3. Volker Meier & Matthias Wrede, 2013. "Reducing the excess burden of subsidizing the stork: joint taxation, individual taxation, and family tax splitting," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 26(3), pages 1195-1207, July.
    4. Meier, Volker & Rainer, Helmut, 2015. "Pigou meets Ramsey: Gender-based taxation with non-cooperative couples," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 77(C), pages 28-46.
    5. Hans Fehr & Manuel Kallweit & Fabian Kindermann, 2013. "Reforming Family Taxation in Germany - Labor Supply vs. Insurance Effects," CESifo Working Paper Series 4386, CESifo Group Munich.
    6. Rigas OIKONOMOU & Christian SIEGEL, 2015. "Capital Taxes, Labor Taxes and the Household," JODE - Journal of Demographic Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 81(3), pages 217-260, September.
    7. Xi CHEN & Ioana SALAGEAN & Benteng ZOU, 2016. "Optimal Income Taxation for the Alleviation of Working-Poverty When Domestic Work is Rewarded," CREA Discussion Paper Series 16-01, Center for Research in Economic Analysis, University of Luxembourg.
    8. Hermann Buslei & Katharina Wrohlich, 2014. "Besteuerung von Paaren: das Ehegattensplitting und seine Alternativen," DIW Roundup: Politik im Fokus 21, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
    9. Kabátek, Jan, 2015. "Essays on public policy and household decision making," Other publications TiSEM 8cdb178e-ad98-42e5-a7e1-b, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
    10. Kabátek, Jan & van Soest, Arthur & Stancanelli, Elena, 2014. "Income taxation, labour supply and housework: A discrete choice model for French couples," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(C), pages 30-43.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation
    • H31 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - Household


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