Document Type



Forthcoming in Social Philosophy and Policy 2005


One of the most vexed issues in the history of the federal income tax is how family or household status should affect tax liability. This article suggests a general approach for thinking about the treatment of households in the fiscal system generally under a utilitarian social welfare norm. The fiscal rules considered include those not only in the income tax but under Social Security, Medicare, and safety net programs. Among the recommendations that emerge from the analysis are (1 recognizing couples for tax and transfer purposes without limitation to those that are married, (2) reducing the fiscal system’s current distributional bias in favor of one-earner couples and its discouraging work by secondary earners, and (3) providing significantly more favorable treatment of households with children than of those with similar resources but no or fewer children, without limiting this more favorable treatment, in the manner of present law, to relatively poor households.

Date of Authorship for this Version

March 2005


law and economics