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Do Individuals Perceive Income Tax Rates Correctly?


  • Michael Gideon


This article uses data from survey questions fielded on the 2011 wave of the Cognitive Economics Study to uncover systematic errors in perceptions of income tax rates. First, when asked about the marginal tax rates (MTRs) for households in the top tax bracket, respondents underestimate the top MTR on wages and salary income, overestimate the MTR on dividend income, and therefore significantly underestimate the currently tax-advantaged status of dividend income. Second, when analyzing the relationship between respondents’ self-reported average tax rates (ATRs) and MTRs, many people do not understand the progressive nature of the federal income tax system. Third, when comparing self-reported tax rates with those computed from self-reported income, respondents systematically overestimate their ATR while reported MTR are accurate at the mean, the responses are consistent with underestimation of tax schedule progressivity.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael Gideon, 2017. "Do Individuals Perceive Income Tax Rates Correctly?," Public Finance Review, , vol. 45(1), pages 97-117, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:pubfin:v:45:y:2017:i:1:p:97-117

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