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Testing taxpayers' cognitive abilities - Survey-based evidence


  • Nima Massarrat-Mashhadi

    () (Freie Universitaet Berlin, Department of Finance, Accounting and Taxation, Garystra├če 21, 14195 Berlin, Germany)

  • Christian Sielaff

    () (Freie Universitaet Berlin, Department of Finance, Accounting and Taxation, Garystra├če 21, 14195 Berlin, Germany)


Our paper assesses the accuracy of individuals' tax perceptions. Based on personal interviews, we aim to find out how tax complexity affects the capability of respondents to calculate income tax liability. Tax complexity is measured by interacting multiple tax rates, applied to one or more tax bases. Empirical results question the traditional view of taxpayers having a comprehensive understanding of taxation rules. Our findings support the view that increasing complexity affects the capability of taxpayers to accurately calculate income tax liability. For tax policy, there is also a need to determine how taxpayers erroneously deviate in terms of extent and direction, when facing increasing tax complexity. Our research design allows us to analyze extent and possible direction of the calculation bias. Approximating an empirical distribution of erroneous calculated effective tax rates could be helpful to design a more effective income tax system.

Suggested Citation

  • Nima Massarrat-Mashhadi & Christian Sielaff, 2012. "Testing taxpayers' cognitive abilities - Survey-based evidence," International Journal of Business and Economic Sciences Applied Research (IJBESAR), Eastern Macedonia and Thrace Institute of Technology (EMATTECH), Kavala, Greece, vol. 5(1), pages 7-22, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:tei:journl:v:5:y:2012:i:1:p:7-22

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Raj Chetty, 2009. "Is the Taxable Income Elasticity Sufficient to Calculate Deadweight Loss? The Implications of Evasion and Avoidance," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 1(2), pages 31-52, August.
    2. J. A. Mirrlees, 1971. "An Exploration in the Theory of Optimum Income Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 38(2), pages 175-208.
    3. Fujii, Edwin T & Hawley, Clifford B, 1988. "On the Accuracy of Tax Perceptions," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 70(2), pages 344-347, May.
    4. James, Simon & Edwards, Alison, 2008. "Developing Tax Policy in a Complex and Changing World," Economic Analysis and Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(1), pages 35-53, March.
    5. Kelly Edmiston & Shannon Mudd & Neven Valev, 2003. "Tax Structures and FDI: The Deterrent Effects of Complexity and Uncertainty," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 24(3), pages 341-359, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jane G. Gravelle & Sean Lowry, 2016. "The Affordable Care Act, Labor Supply, and Social Welfare," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 69(4), pages 863-882, December.

    More about this item


    Tax Complexity; Survey Data; Estimated Tax Rates;

    JEL classification:

    • C83 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Data Collection and Data Estimation Methodology; Computer Programs - - - Survey Methods; Sampling Methods
    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation
    • H24 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies


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