NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Promote Marriage by Eliminating Tax Penalties

January 29, 2004

An important way to promote marriage in the United States is by abolishing the marriage penalty for those it hurts the most: two-income households, says Dorothy A. Brown, a professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law.

The marriage penalty, she says, is not universal; some couples actually receive a marriage bonus. What accounts for the different treatment? The politics of tax law are always complicated but more "traditional" families receive better treatment under the tax code.

  • The marriage bonus is greatest when only one person in a household works outside the home.
  • The marriage penalty is greatest when both husband and wife have jobs and earn roughly equal amounts.
  • In households where total annual income is between $60,000 and $90,000, more married white couples pay a penalty than receive a bonus.
  • At all other income levels, more white couples receive a marriage bonus than pay a marriage penalty.
  • For African-American households, it is just the opposite: at every income level, from $30,000 to $120,000, more couples are penalized than benefit.
  • Only when annual income exceeds $120,000 are there more married black households receiving a bonus than a penalty.

By easing the tax burden specifically for married couples in which both husband and wife work and make comparable salaries, President Bush can serve several constituencies. Fiscal conservatives will applaud a more fair and rational tax code. Social conservatives will be pleased that he is promoting marriage as an institution. And African-Americans will welcome a tax-relief plan that has real benefits for their community, says Brown.

Source: Dorothy Brown, "In Sickness, in Health and in the Tax Code," New York Times, January 25, 2004.


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