Wedded to the Joint Return: Culture and the Persistence of the Marital Unit in the American Income Tax

Theoretical Inquiries in Law, Vol. 11, p. 631, 2010

25 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2011 Last revised: 26 Jan 2011

Date Written: November 30, 2009

Abstract

The United States, unlike most developed countries, continues to use the marital couple as the taxable unit for its income tax, even as other countries have abandoned it. The continued use of the marital unit - like its original establishment - rests on cultural preferences. This Article suggests that the roles of family, religion and taxation in America are essential to America’s retention of the marital unit. Part I examines the distinctive contributions family and marriage - especially the traditional breadwinner marriage - make to the political life of the country. Part II explores the similar role of religion. Part III describes some congressional efforts over the past two decades to aid, ostensibly, married couples through the income tax. Part IV concludes that although these actions have not been the most effective or efficient means of helping married couples, they nevertheless serve an important expressive purpose. Tax has been the arena for many political issues since the founding of the nation. Consequently, congressional actions and rhetoric regarding the income tax penalty on marriage reinforce the marital unit/joint return and reaffirm - even if only symbolically - a national commitment to marriage as instrumental to American democracy.

Keywords: family, history, marriage, politics, religion, rhetoric, taxation

Suggested Citation

Kornhauser, Marjorie E., Wedded to the Joint Return: Culture and the Persistence of the Marital Unit in the American Income Tax (November 30, 2009). Theoretical Inquiries in Law, Vol. 11, p. 631, 2010, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1746322

Marjorie E. Kornhauser (Contact Author)

Tulane University School of Law ( email )

6329 Freret Street
New Orleans, LA 70118
United States

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