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Capital Gains Taxation and Tax Avoidance: New Evidence from Panel Data


  • Alan J. Auerbach
  • Leonard E. Burman
  • Jonathan Siegel


Previous theoretical analyses of the capital gains tax have suggested that investors have considerable opportunity to avoid the tax. Yet, past empirical work has found relatively little evidence of such activity. Using a previously unavailable panel data set with a very large sample of high-income individuals, this paper aims to bring the theory and evidence closer together by examining the behavior of individual taxpayers over time. Though confirming past findings that avoidance of tax on realized capital gains is not prevalent, we do observe that tax avoidance activity increased after the passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, and that high-income, high-wealth and more sophisticated taxpayers were most likely to avoid tax. However, the efficacy of tax avoidance strategies depends on being able to avoid tax for long periods, and we find that most tax avoidance is of relatively short duration. Thus, the effective tax rate on realized capital gains is very close to the statutory rate in all years and tax brackets.

Suggested Citation

  • Alan J. Auerbach & Leonard E. Burman & Jonathan Siegel, 1998. "Capital Gains Taxation and Tax Avoidance: New Evidence from Panel Data," NBER Working Papers 6399, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6399
    Note: PE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Meyer, Bruce D, 1990. "Unemployment Insurance and Unemployment Spells," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 58(4), pages 757-782, July.
    2. Martin Feldstein & Joel Slemrod & Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1980. "The Effects of Taxation on the Selling of Corporate Stock and the Realization of Capital Gains," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 94(4), pages 777-791.
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    5. James M. Poterba, 1986. "How Burdensome are Capital Gains Taxes?," NBER Working Papers 1871, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Gerald E. Auten & Charles T. Clotfelter, 1982. "Permanent versus Transitory Tax Effects and the Realization of Capital Gains," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 97(4), pages 613-632.
    7. Rosanne Altshuler & Alan J. Auerbach, 1990. "The Significance of Tax Law Asymmetries: An Empirical Investigation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 105(1), pages 61-86.
    8. Blank, Rebecca M., 1989. "Analyzing the length of welfare spells," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 245-273, August.
    9. Alan J. Auerbach, 1988. "Capital Gains Taxation in the United States: Realizations, Revenue, and Rhetoric," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 19(2), pages 595-638.
    10. Seyhun, H Nejat & Skinner, Douglas J, 1994. "How Do Taxes Affect Investors' Stock Market Realizations? Evidence from Tax-Return Panel Data," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 67(2), pages 231-262, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Wojciech Kopczuk, 2012. "Taxation of Intergenerational Transfers and Wealth," NBER Working Papers 18584, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Gavin, William T. & Kydland, Finn E. & Pakko, Michael R., 2007. "Monetary policy, taxes, and the business cycle," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(6), pages 1587-1611, September.
    3. Zoran Ivković & James Poterba & Scott Weisbenner, 2005. "Tax-Motivated Trading by Individual Investors," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(5), pages 1605-1630, December.
    4. Jacob, Martin, 2008. "Welche privaten Veräußerungsgewinne sollten besteuert werden?," arqus Discussion Papers in Quantitative Tax Research 49, arqus - Arbeitskreis Quantitative Steuerlehre.
    5. Grinblatt, Mark & Keloharju, Matti, 2004. "Tax-loss trading and wash sales," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 71(1), pages 51-76, January.
    6. Francesco Menoncin & Paolo M. Panteghini, 2013. "The Johansson-Samuelson Theorem in General Equilibrium: A Rebuttal," FinanzArchiv: Public Finance Analysis, Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 69(1), pages 57-71, March.
    7. Poterba, James M., 2002. "Taxation, risk-taking, and household portfolio behavior," Handbook of Public Economics,in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 17, pages 1109-1171 Elsevier.
    8. repec:kap:itaxpf:v:24:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s10797-016-9425-0 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Freire-Serén, María Jesús & Panadés i Martí, Judith, 2013. "Tax avoidance, human capital accumulation and economic growth," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 30(C), pages 22-29.
    10. Viard, Alan D., 2000. "Dynamic asset pricing effects and incidence of realization-based capital gains taxes," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 46(2), pages 465-488, October.
    11. Shoven, John B. & Sialm, Clemens, 2004. "Asset location in tax-deferred and conventional savings accounts," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(1-2), pages 23-38, January.
    12. Jonathan M. Siegel & Alan J. Auerbach, 2000. "Capital-Gains Realizations of the Rich and Sophisticated," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 276-282, May.
    13. Mintz, Jack & Smart, Michael, 2002. "Tax-exempt investors and the asset allocation puzzle," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(2), pages 195-215, February.
    14. Leonard E. Burman, 2012. "Testimony presented before the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Committee on Finance entitled “Tax Reform and the Tax Treatment of Capital Gains"," Center for Policy Research Working Papers 144, Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School, Syracuse University.
    15. James M. Poterba, 2001. "Capital Gains Tax Rules, Tax-loss Trading, and Turn-of-the-year Returns," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 56(1), pages 353-368, February.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H24 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies
    • H31 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - Household


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