Rethinking Tax Priorities: Marriage Neutrality, Children, and Contemporary Families
Tax scholarship has long struggled with whether married taxpayers should be taxed differently from unmarried taxpayers. Currently, married taxpayers are subject to different tax rates than unmarried taxpayers, and may file a joint tax return. A married couple may pay a higher or lower amount of tax than an unmarried couple with the same total income, and a single person generally pays more tax on a given income than a married couple with a single earner with the same income. These outcomes are difficult to reconcile with a commitment to income tax progressivity, which in theory requires that higher incomes be taxed at higher rates. Moreover, the system penalizes some marriages, and benefits other marriages. This article takes a fresh look at the problem of marriage bonuses and penalties, acknowledges that there may be difficulties with a separate filing system, but concludes that the joint return and special rates for married taxpayers should be abolished. In addition, drawing on the work of family law scholars, this article argues that a stronger case can be made for supporting parenting rather than marriage in the tax system.