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The Optimal Income Taxation of Couples as a Multi-Dimensional Screening Problem

Author

Listed:
  • Emmanuel Saez

    (UC Berkeley)

  • Claus Thustrup Kreiner

    (University of Copenhagen)

  • Henrik Jacobsen Kleven

    (London School of Economics)

Abstract

This paper explores the optimal income tax treatment of couples. Each couple is modelled as a single agent supplying labor along two dimensions: primary-earner and secondary-earner labor supply. We consider fully general nonlinear income tax schedules which creates a multi-dimensional screening problem. We prove that, under regularity and separability assumptions for utility functions and for a wide class of social welfare functions, optimal tax schemes display negative jointness such that the tax rate on one person decreases in the earnings of the spouse. We also show that the tax on the secondary earner tends to zero asymptotically as the earnings of the primary earner becomes large. These results are valid both in models where secondary earners make only a binary labor supply choice (work or not work), and in models where both spouses make continuous labor supply decisions. In the latter case and in contrast to the multi-dimensional screening monopoly model, the optimal tax system is regular everywhere with no bunching for a wide set of parameters.

Suggested Citation

  • Emmanuel Saez & Claus Thustrup Kreiner & Henrik Jacobsen Kleven, 2008. "The Optimal Income Taxation of Couples as a Multi-Dimensional Screening Problem," 2008 Meeting Papers 472, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:sed008:472
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Immervoll, Herwig & Kleven, Henrik Jacobsen & Kreiner, Claus Thustrup & Verdelin, Nicolaj, 2008. "An evaluation of the tax-transfer treatment of married couples in European countries," EUROMOD Working Papers EM7/08, EUROMOD at the Institute for Social and Economic Research.
    2. Rolf Aaberge & Ugo Colombino, 2005. "Designing Optimal Taxes With a Microeconometric Model of Household Labour Supply," Public Economics 0510013, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. Immervoll, Herwig & Kleven, Henrik Jacobsen & Kreiner, Claus Thustrup & Verdelin, Nicolaj, 2011. "Optimal tax and transfer programs for couples with extensive labor supply responses," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(11), pages 1485-1500.
    4. M. Fort & N. Schneeweis & R. Winter-Ebmer, 2011. "More Schooling, More Children: Compulsory Schooling Reforms and Fertility in Europe," Working Papers wp787, Dipartimento Scienze Economiche, Universita' di Bologna.
    5. Rolf Aaberge & Ugo Colombino, 2011. "Empirical Optimal Income Taxation: A Microeconometric Application to Norway," CHILD Working Papers wp16_11, CHILD - Centre for Household, Income, Labour and Demographic economics - ITALY.

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