Gendering the Marriage Penalty
Controversies in Tax Law (Anthony Infanti, ed., Ashgate Pub., 2015)
19 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2015 Last revised: 30 Oct 2015
Date Written: 2015
In 1969 Congress amended the Internal Revenue Code to create a marriage penalty. The penalty was not felt by all married couples: Only those couples in which spouses earned roughly equal amounts and who filed joint tax returns paid a penalty. Thus, the 1969 change in law had a gendered effect of discouraging some wives from earning income, but the alternative was not without its own gendered results. If gender marks the impact of the 1969 legislation, was gender what motived the change in law? It would be easy to assume that at the end of the 1960s, a socially conservative legislature reacted to a developing women’s movement. From the legislative debates, sexism certainly pervaded congressional discussion of women’s role in the family and the economy. However, this only tells part of the story and does so by focusing on the result that remains of interest today. Economic forces were a larger part of the story. The context of the 1969 revision shows it as part of an economic movement evolving since the end of World War II as policymakers adopted tax legislation in an attempt to improve the economy and fight the Cold War. Not only policymakers in Washington but also many women’s groups shared this focus on national economics. The focus on economic issues resulted in a lack of analysis of how this change in tax policy would affect various groups of women. The development of the marriage penalty highlights the need to consider the consequences of legislation prior to its enactment. In this case, particular concerns (largely economic) drove legislation that imposed most of its cost on a segment of society that was not focused on this issue.
Keywords: tax, marriage penalty, gender
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