Marginal Tax Rates and Income: New Time Series Evidence

69 Pages Posted: 28 Oct 2015

See all articles by Karel Mertens

Karel Mertens

Federal Reserve Banks - Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: October 2015


Using new narrative measures of exogenous variation in marginal tax rates associated with postwar tax reforms in the US, this study estimates short run elasticities of taxable income of around 1.2 based on time series from 1946 to 2012. Elasticities are larger in the top 1% of the income distribution but are also positive and statistically significant for other income groups. Previous time series studies of tax returns data have found little evidence for income responses to taxes outside the top of the income distribution. The different results in this study arise because of additional efforts to account for dynamics, expectations and especially the endogeneity of tax policy decisions. Marginal rate cuts lead to increases in real GDP and declines in unemployment. This study also presents evidence that the responses are to marginal rather than average tax rates. Counterfactual tax cuts targeting the top 1% alone have positive effects on economic activity and incomes outside of the top 1% but increase inequality in pre-tax incomes. The data and methodology in this study do not permit any conclusions about the impact of tax rate changes targeting lower income taxpayers alone.

Keywords: Fiscal Policy, Income, Income Distribution, Marginal Tax Rates, Tax Changes

JEL Classification: E62, H24, H3

Suggested Citation

Mertens, Karel, Marginal Tax Rates and Income: New Time Series Evidence (October 2015). CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP10896, Available at SSRN:

Karel Mertens (Contact Author)

Federal Reserve Banks - Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas ( email )

2200 North Pearl Street
PO Box 655906
Dallas, TX 75265-5906
United States

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