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An Evaluation of the Tax-Transfer Treatment of Married Couples in European Countries

  • Herwig Immervoll

    (OECD)

  • Henrik Jacobsen Kleven

    (London School of Economics)

  • Claus Thustrup Kreiner

    (Department of Economics, University of Copenhagen)

  • Nicolaj Verdelin

    (Department of Economics, University of Copenhagen)

This paper presents an evaluation of the tax-transfer treatment of married couples in 15 EU countries using the EUROMOD microsimulation model. First, we show that many tax-transfer schemes in Europe feature negative jointness defined as a situation where the tax rate on one person depends negatively on the earnings of the spouse. This stands in contrast to the previous literature on this question, which has focused on a specific form of positive jointness. The presence of negative jointness is driven by family-based and means-tested transfer programs combined with tax systems that usually feature very little jointness. Second, we consider the labor supply distortion on secondary earners relative to primary earners implied by the current tax-transfer systems, and study the welfare effects of small reforms that change the relative taxation of spouses. By adopting a small-reform methodology, it is possible to set out a simple analysis based on more realistic labor supply models than those considered in the existing literature. We present microsimulations showing that simple revenue-neutral reforms that lower the tax burden on secondary earners are associated with substantial welfare gains in most countries. Finally, we consider the tax-transfer implications of marriage and estimate the so-called marriage penalty. For most countries, we find large marriage penalties at the bottom of the distribution driven primarily by features of the transfer system.

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Paper provided by Economic Policy Research Unit (EPRU), University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics in its series EPRU Working Paper Series with number 08-03.

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Length: 29 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2008
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:kud:epruwp:08-03
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  1. Immervoll, Herwig & Kleven, Henrik Jacobsen & Kreiner, Claus Thustrup & Saez, Emmanuel, 2005. "Welfare Reform in European Countries: A Microsimulation Analysis," IZA Discussion Papers 1810, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Marianne Bitler & Jonah Gelbach & Hilary Hoynes & Madeline Zavodny, 2004. "The impact of welfare reform on marriage and divorce," Demography, Springer, vol. 41(2), pages 213-236, May.
  3. Dickert-Conlin, Stacy & Houser, Scott, 1998. "Taxes and Transfers: A New Look at the Marriage Penalty," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 51(n. 2), pages 175-217, June.
  4. H. W. Hoynes, . "Does welfare play any role in female headship decisions?," Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers 1078-95, University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty.
  5. Armstrong, Mark & Rochet, Jean-Charles, 1999. "Multi-dimensional screening:: A user's guide," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 43(4-6), pages 959-979, April.
  6. Daniel R. Feenberg & Harvey S. Rosen, 1994. "Recent Developments in the Marriage Tax," NBER Working Papers 4705, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Boskin, Michael J. & Sheshinski, Eytan, 1983. "Optimal tax treatment of the family: Married couples," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 20(3), pages 281-297, April.
  8. Henrik Jacobsen Kleven & Claus Thustrup Kreiner & Emmanuel Saez, 2007. "The Optimal Income Taxation of Couples as a Multi-Dimensional Screening Problem," CESifo Working Paper Series 2092, CESifo Group Munich.
  9. Herwig Immervoll, 2004. "Average and Marginal Effective Tax Rates Facing Workers in the EU: A Micro-Level Analysis of Levels, Distributions and Driving Factors," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 19, OECD Publishing.
  10. Herwig Immervoll & Cathal O’Donoghue, 2003. "Employment Transitions in 13 European Countries. Levels, Distributions and Determining Factors of Net Replacement Rates," CESifo Working Paper Series 1091, CESifo Group Munich.
  11. Helmuth Cremer & Jean-Marie Lozachmeur & Pierre Pestieau, 2012. "Income taxation of couples and the tax unit choice," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 25(2), pages 763-778, January.
  12. Hilary Williamson Hoynes, 1996. "Work, Welfare, and Family Structure: What Have We Learned?," NBER Working Papers 5644, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Nada Eissa, 1995. "Taxation and Labor Supply of Married Women: The Tax Reform Act of 1986 as a Natural Experiment," NBER Working Papers 5023, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Blundell, Richard & Macurdy, Thomas, 1999. "Labor supply: A review of alternative approaches," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 27, pages 1559-1695 Elsevier.
  15. Richard W. Blundell, 1995. "The Impact of Taxation on Labour Force Participation and Labour Supply," OECD Jobs Study Working Papers 8, OECD Publishing.
  16. Eissa, Nada & Hoynes, Hilary Williamson, 2004. "Taxes and the labor market participation of married couples: the earned income tax credit," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 1931-1958, August.
  17. Alm, James & Whittington, Leslie A, 1999. "For Love or Money? The Impact of Income Taxes on Marriage," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 66(263), pages 297-316, August.
  18. Craig Brett, 2007. "Optimal nonlinear taxes for families," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer, vol. 14(3), pages 225-261, June.
  19. Emmanuel Saez, 2002. "Optimal Income Transfer Programs: Intensive versus Extensive Labor Supply Responses," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(3), pages 1039-1073.
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