Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 13 No. 3 (Summer 1999)


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Policy Watch: The Marriage Penalty

Article Citation

Alm, James, Stacy Dickert-Conlin, and Leslie A. Whittington. 1999. "Policy Watch: The Marriage Penalty." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 13(3): 193-204.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.13.3.193


Many government programs have implicit penalties or subsidies for marriage. For example, many couples pay higher income taxes when married than their combined tax liabilities as single filers, while many other couples receive a marriage subsidy because their joint taxes fall with marriage. Likewise, most low-income couples are eligible for higher welfare benefits if they are separated rather than married. This article discusses the marriage penalty, with a particular focus on tax and transfer programs. Why does it exist? Who faces it? To what extent does it affect marriage and labor market behavior? What tradeoffs are involved in reducing it?

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Alm, James (GA State U)
Dickert-Conlin, Stacy (Syracuse U)
Whittington, Leslie A. (Georgetown U)

JEL Classifications

J12: Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure; Domestic Abuse
H31: Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents: Household
H24: Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies; includes inheritance and gift taxes


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