The Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: A Panel Study of The1986 Tax Reform Act

50 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2000 Last revised: 30 Jul 2000

See all articles by Martin S. Feldstein

Martin S. Feldstein

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Harvard University

Date Written: October 1993

Abstract

This paper reports new estimates of the sensitivity of taxable income to changes in tax rates based on a comparison of the tax returns of the same individual taxpayers before and after the 1986 tax reform. This comparison is done by using a panel of more than 4000 individual tax returns created by the Treasury that matches tax returns for the same taxpayers in different years. The analysis emphasizes that the response of taxable income is much more general than the response of traditional measures of labor supply and is likely to be much more sensitive to tax rates. The evidence shows a substantial response of taxable income to changes in marginal tax rates. The differences-of-differences calculations imply an elasticity of taxable income with respect to the marginal net-of-tax rate that is at least one and could be substantially higher. There is a brief discussion and simulation analysis of the implications of these estimates for the likely impact of the 1993 tax rate increases on tax revenues. Even the lowest estimated elasticity implies that the tax rate changes enacted in 1993 will lead to little additional personal income tax revenue.

Suggested Citation

Feldstein, Martin S., The Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: A Panel Study of The1986 Tax Reform Act (October 1993). NBER Working Paper No. w4496. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=232059

Martin S. Feldstein (Contact Author)

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