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Taxation of human capital and wage inequality: a cross-country analysis

Author

Listed:
  • Fatih Guvenen
  • Burhanettin Kuruscu
  • Serdar Ozkan

Abstract

Wage inequality has been significantly higher in the United States than in continental European countries (CEU) since the 1970s. Moreover, this inequality gap has further widened during this period as the US has experienced a large increase in wage inequality, whereas the CEU has seen only modest changes. This paper studies the role of labor income tax policies for understanding these facts. We begin by documenting two new empirical facts that link these inequality differences to tax policies. First, we show that countries with more progressive labor income tax schedules have significantly lower before-tax wage inequality at different points in time. Second, progressivity is also negatively correlated with the rise in wage inequality during this period. We then construct a life cycle model in which individuals decide each period whether to go to school, work, or be unemployed. Individuals can accumulate skills either in school or while working. Wage inequality arises from differences across individuals in their ability to learn new skills as well as from idiosyncratic shocks. Progressive taxation compresses the (after-tax) wage structure, thereby distorting the incentives to accumulate human capital, in turn reducing the cross-sectional dispersion of (before-tax) wages. We find that these policies can account for half of the difference between the US and the CEU in overall wage inequality and 76% of the difference in inequality at the upper end (log 90-50 differential). When this economy experiences skill-biased technological change, progressivity also dampens the rise in wage dispersion over time. The model explains 41% of the difference in the total rise in inequality and 58% of the difference at the upper end.

Suggested Citation

  • Fatih Guvenen & Burhanettin Kuruscu & Serdar Ozkan, . "Taxation of human capital and wage inequality: a cross-country analysis," Staff Report, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedmsr:438
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    Cited by:

    1. Peterman, William B., 2013. "Determining the motives for a positive optimal tax on capital," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 37(1), pages 265-295.
    2. Chakraborty, Indraneel & Holter, Hans A. & Stepanchuk, Serhiy, 2015. "Marriage stability, taxation and aggregate labor supply in the U.S. vs. Europe," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(C), pages 1-20.
    3. Erosa, Andrés & Fuster, Luisa & Kambourov, Gueorgui, 2012. "Labor supply and government programs: A cross-country analysis," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 59(1), pages 84-107.
    4. Freddy Heylen & Renaat Van de Kerckhove, 2014. "Heterogeneous ability and the effects of fiscal policy on employment, income and welfare in general equilibrium," Working Papers of Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Ghent University, Belgium 14/898, Ghent University, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration.
    5. William Peterman, 2016. "The effect of endogenous human capital accumulation on optimal taxation," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 21, pages 46-71, July.
    6. Blandin, Adam & Peterman, William B., 2019. "Taxing capital? The importance of how human capital is accumulated," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 482-508.
    7. Fatih Karahan & Serdar Ozkan, 2013. "On the Persistence of Income Shocks over the Life Cycle: Evidence, Theory, and Implications," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 16(3), pages 452-476, July.
    8. Yena Park, 2014. "Constrained Efficiency in a Risky Human Capital Model," RCER Working Papers 585, University of Rochester - Center for Economic Research (RCER).
    9. repec:fip:fedreq:y:2011:i:3q:p:255-326:n:vol.97no.3 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Tom Krebs & Moritz Kuhn & Mark L. J. Wright, 2015. "Human Capital Risk, Contract Enforcement, and the Macroeconomy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(11), pages 3223-3272, November.
    11. Alonso-Ortiz, Jorge, 2014. "Social security and retirement across the OECD," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 300-316.
    12. Dhritman Bhattacharya & Nezih Guner & Gustavo Ventura, 2013. "Distortions, Endogenous Managerial Skills and Productivity Differences," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 16(1), pages 11-25, January.
    13. Sang Yoon (Tim) Lee, 2019. "Entrepreneurs, managers and inequality," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 32, pages 42-67, April.
    14. Hans A. Holter, 2015. "Accounting for cross‐country differences in intergenerational earnings persistence: The impact of taxation and public education expenditure," Quantitative Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 6(2), pages 385-428, July.
    15. Ryosuke Okazawa, 2013. "Skill-biased technical change, educational choice, and labor market polarization: the U.S. versus Europe," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 11(3), pages 321-342, September.
    16. Koyuncu, Murat, 2011. "Can progressive taxation account for cross-country variation in labor supply?," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 35(9), pages 1474-1488, September.
    17. Nezih Guner & Remzi Kaygusuz & Gustavo Ventura, 2014. "Income Taxation of U.S. Households: Facts and Parametric Estimates," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 17(4), pages 559-581, October.
    18. Alonso Ortiz, Jorge, 2009. "Social Security and Retirement across OECD Countries," MPRA Paper 18563, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    19. Rong Hai, 2013. "The Determinants of Rising Inequality in Health Insurance and Wages: An Equilibrium Model of Workers' Compensation and Health Care Policies," PIER Working Paper Archive 13-019, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania.
    20. Heylen Freddy & Van de Kerckhove Renaat, 2013. "Employment by age, education, and economic growth: effects of fiscal policy composition in general equilibrium," The B.E. Journal of Macroeconomics, De Gruyter, vol. 13(1), pages 1-55, October.
    21. Echevarría, Cruz A., 2012. "Income tax progressivity, physical capital, aggregate uncertainty and long-run growth in an OLG economy," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 34(4), pages 955-974.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Taxation; Human capital; Wages;

    JEL classification:

    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy
    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials

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