Households and the Fiscal System

42 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2005

See all articles by Daniel Shaviro

Daniel Shaviro

New York University School of Law


One of the most vexed issues in the history of the federal income tax is how family or household status should affect tax liability. This article suggests a general approach for thinking about the treatment of households in the fiscal system generally under a utilitarian social welfare norm. The fiscal rules considered include those not only in the income tax but under Social Security, Medicare, and safety net programs. Among the recommendations that emerge from the analysis are (1) recognizing couples for tax and transfer purposes without limitation to those that are married, (2) reducing the fiscal system's current distributional bias in favor of one-earner couples and its discouraging work by secondary earners, and (3) providing significantly more favorable treatment of households with children than of those with similar resources but no or fewer children, without limiting this more favorable treatment, in the manner of present law, to relatively poor households.

Suggested Citation

Shaviro, Daniel, Households and the Fiscal System. Available at SSRN:

Daniel Shaviro (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

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