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The Determinants of Income Tax Compliance: Evidence from a Controlled Experiment in Minnesota

  • Marsha Blumenthal
  • Charles Christian
  • Joel Slemrod

This paper reports on the results of a controlled experiment in Minnesota in which a random sample of taxpayers was informed that their income tax returns would certainly be closely examined. We analyze reported income of this sample of taxpayers, reported income on their previous year's returns, and reported income from the two corresponding years' returns of a control group of taxpayers that did not receive the letter. We find that the treatment effect varies depending on the level of income. Low and middle income taxpayers increased reported income and tax liability relative to the control group, which we interpret as indicating the presence of noncompliance. The effect was much stronger for those with more opportunity' to evade, as measured by their source of income. However, the reported income of the high-income treatment group fell sharply relative to the control group. We suggest a model based on tax audits as a negotiation that can explain this apparently perverse result.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6575.

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Date of creation: May 1998
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Blumenthal, Marsha, Charles Christian and Joel Slemrod. "Do Normative Appeals Affect Tax Compliance? Evidence From A Controlled Experiment In Minnesota," National Tax Journal, 2001, v54(1,Mar), 125-136.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6575
Note: PE
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  1. James J. Heckman & Jeffrey A. Smith, 1995. "Assessing the Case for Social Experiments," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(2), pages 85-110, Spring.
  2. Gary Burtless, 1995. "The Case for Randomized Field Trials in Economic and Policy Research," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(2), pages 63-84, Spring.
  3. Dubin, Jeffrey A. & Wilde, Louis L., 1988. "An Empirical Analysis of Federal Income Tax Auditing and Compliance," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 41(1), pages 61-74, March.
  4. Cremer, Helmuth & Gahvari, Firouz, 1994. " Tax Evasion, Concealment and the Optimal Linear Income Tax," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 96(2), pages 219-39.
  5. Allingham, Michael G. & Sandmo, Agnar, 1972. "Income tax evasion: a theoretical analysis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 1(3-4), pages 323-338, November.
  6. Clotfelter, Charles T, 1983. "Tax Evasion and Tax Rates: An Analysis of Individual Returns," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 65(3), pages 363-73, August.
  7. Jonathan S. Feinstein, 1991. "An Econometric Analysis of Income Tax Evasion and its Detection," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 22(1), pages 14-35, Spring.
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