Does It Pay Both Spouses to Work?

Policy Reports | Taxes

No. 260
Wednesday, May 14, 2003
by Jagadeesh Gokhale and Laurence J. Kotlikoff


Social Security was created in an era in which the typical household consisted of a working husband and a stay-at-home wife. The structure of Social Security rewards that type of arrangement and penalizes two-earner households.

"All young people will pay more in Social Security taxes than they will receive in benefits, with the greatest burden on two-earner couples."

Although all young people can expect to pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits, Social Security is especially burdensome for someone whose spouse is also in the labor market. The lifetime penalties Social Security imposes on two-earner couples are high both in absolute terms and as a percent of income.

Surprisingly, the penalties relative to income are highest for those at the bottom of the income ladder.

NOTE: Nothing written here should be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the National Center for Policy Analysis or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before Congress.

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