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Taxes, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Marital Status

Listed author(s):
  • Dan T. Rosenbaum

A common criticism of tax and welfare policy is that these policies create disincentives for marriage, spurring recent calls for "welfare reform" or eliminating the "marriage penalty" in the federal income tax system. These criticisms are lobbied in the midst of a literature with little conclusive evidence on the effect of these policies on marriage. Changes since the mid-1980s in federal income taxes (especially the Earned Income Tax Credit), welfare (AFDC, TANF, and Food Stamps), Medicaid, and child care provision have dramatically altered the incentives to marry or stay married. It is this laboratory of legislative changes that will be used to test the responsiveness of marriage and divorce rates to changes in incentives, primarily those due to the changes in taxes. I use a method similar to Meyer and Rosenbaum (NBER WP #7363) to carefully characterize the incentives created by the federal income tax system, including the EITC. Using data from the SIPP and March CPS, I examine the responsiveness of marriage and divorce to changes in tax incentives and welfare waivers. My results suggest that it is not possible to rule out large effects of tax incentives on marriage, although the estimated effects are quite sensitive to how incentives are measured and often are not robust across different sub-samples of the data. The results also suggest that entry into marriage is more responsive to tax incentives than is exit from marriage. Welfare waivers appear to have a negligible effect on marriage decisions. Two of the primary contributions of this paper are (1) a better methodology to characterize the changes in incentives induced by policy and (2) more of a focus on transitions into and out of marriage.

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Paper provided by Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research in its series JCPR Working Papers with number 177.

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Date of creation: 31 May 2000
Handle: RePEc:wop:jopovw:177
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  1. Moffitt, Robert, 1992. "Incentive Effects of the U.S. Welfare System: A Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 30(1), pages 1-61, March.
  2. Robert Moffitt, 1994. "Welfare Effects on Female Headship with Area Effects," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 29(2), pages 621-636.
  3. Alm, James & Whittington, Leslie A., 1995. "Does the Income Tax Affect Marital Decisions?," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 48(4), pages 565-72, December.
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