Marriage Penalties in Public Programs: Social Security's Child–in–Care Widow(er) Benefits

National Tax Journal

18 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2021

See all articles by Michael J. Brien

Michael J. Brien

Deloitte & Touche, LLP

Stacy Dickert-Conlin

affiliation not provided to SSRN

David Weaver

University of South Carolina

Date Written: December 01, 2004

Abstract

The Social Security program, like the federal income tax system, is not marriage neutral. Provisions in each public program, in effect, subsidize or penalize marriage. In this paper, we examine marriage penalties associated with Social Security's child–in–care benefits. This program provides financial benefits to the minor or disabled children and spouse of a worker covered by Social Security in the event of the worker's death. Benefits to the widow(er) terminate upon remarriage, giving rise to marriage penalties. We document the size of these penalties, discuss their likely effects on marriage decisions, and measure the cost of repealing the termination provision. Finally, because of the complex nature of the Social Security benefit computations, we suggest that many widow(er)s may perceive larger penalties than actually exist. Providing more complete information to widow(er)s might encourage marriage, as individuals would realize that the penalties are not as large as they appear. We offer some practical suggestions on how the Social Security Administration could better inform widow(er)s as to the true size of the penalties.

Keywords: Social Security, Marriage Penalty, Widows

JEL Classification: H55, J12, J13

Suggested Citation

Brien, Michael J. and Dickert-Conlin, Stacy and Weaver, David, Marriage Penalties in Public Programs: Social Security's Child–in–Care Widow(er) Benefits (December 01, 2004). National Tax Journal, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3788471

Michael J. Brien

Deloitte & Touche, LLP

Paramount Plaza
Midtown Manhattan
New York, NY AB
United States

Stacy Dickert-Conlin

affiliation not provided to SSRN

David Weaver (Contact Author)

University of South Carolina ( email )

United States

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