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The Taxation of Couples

  • Patricia Apps
  • Ray Rees

This paper is concerned with the question of how couples should be taxed. One reason for the importance of this issue is simply that the overwhelming majority of individuals live in households formed around couples, and so it could be argued that empirically, this is the single most important problem in personal income taxation. 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 paper we try to show how a simple model of household production can be used to help the analysis of optimal taxation and tax reform, and 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. 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.

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Paper provided by Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 559.

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Date of creation: Jul 2007
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Handle: RePEc:auu:dpaper:559
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  1. Martin Feldstein & Daniel R. Feenberg, 1996. "The Taxation of Two-Earner Families," NBER Chapters, in: Empirical Foundations of Household Taxation, pages 39-75 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Apps, Patricia & Rees, Ray, 1999. "On the taxation of trade within and between households," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 73(2), pages 241-263, August.
  3. Piggott, John & Whalley, John, 1996. "The Tax Unit and Household Production," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(2), pages 398-418, April.
  4. Sheshinski, Eytan, 1972. "The Optimal Linear Income-Tax," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 39(3), pages 297-302, July.
  5. Auerbach, Alan J. & Hines, James Jr., 2002. "Taxation and economic efficiency," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 21, pages 1347-1421 Elsevier.
  6. Michael J. Boskin & Eytan Sheshinski, 1979. "Optimal Tax Treatment of the Family: Married Couples," NBER Working Papers 0368, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521887878 is not listed on IDEAS
  8. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521497695 is not listed on IDEAS
  9. Apps, Patricia F. & Rees, Ray, 1988. "Taxation and the household," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 355-369, April.
  10. Mirrlees, James A, 1971. "An Exploration in the Theory of Optimum Income Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 38(114), pages 175-208, April.
  11. Apps, Patricia, 1982. "Institutional inequality and tax incidence," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(2), pages 217-242, July.
  12. Rees, Ray, 1988. "Taxation and the Household," Munich Reprints in Economics 3411, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
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