Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

Rethinking Tax Priorities: Marriage Neutrality, Children, and Contemporary Families

28 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2010 Last revised: 5 Dec 2010

James M. Puckett

Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Law

Date Written: August 5, 2010


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.

Keywords: Tax, Marriage, Marriage Penalty, Marriage Bonus, Progressivity, Parenting, Child Rearing, Gay, Same-Sex, Income Splitting, Joint Return, Separate Filing, Dependent, Head of Household, Child Credit

Suggested Citation

Puckett, James M., Rethinking Tax Priorities: Marriage Neutrality, Children, and Contemporary Families (August 5, 2010). University of Cincinnati Law Review, Vol. 78, p. 1409, 2010; Seattle University School of Law Research Paper No. 10-34. Available at SSRN:

James M. Puckett (Contact Author)

Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Law ( email )

Lewis Katz Building
University Park, PA 16802
United States

HOME PAGE: http://

Paper statistics

Abstract Views