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The Federal Gift Tax: History, Law, and Economics

OTA Papers 100

60 Pages Posted: 30 Oct 2006 Last revised: 3 Dec 2007

David Joulfaian

U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Tax Analysis (OTA)

Date Written: November 2007


The gift tax was first enacted in 1924, repealed in 1926, overhauled and reintroduced in 1932. At its peak in fiscal year 1999, it raised $4.6 billion in revenues, before the recent phased-in tax rate reductions ushered by the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) took effect. It is noteworthy that the gift tax was first enacted as a protective measure to minimize estate and income tax avoidance, and not for its direct revenue yield. Similarly, EGTRRA, while phasing out the estate tax, retained the gift tax for the very same reasons.

Unlike the estate tax which faces an uncertain future, the gift tax is little affected by recent legislative proposals and will remain part of the tax code for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, the gift tax has been the subject of little scrutiny and studies of its economic implications are rare. This paper is an attempt to fill this void. It traces the evolution of the gift tax since its inception, and sketches out the structure of the tax and its complex interactions with the income and estate taxes.

The paper also provides an overview of the direct fiscal contribution of the gift tax, and traces the number of taxpayers over time as well as their attributes. It concludes with a discussion of the behavioral effects of the gift tax and a review of the scant literature. These include empirical evidence on the choice between gifts and bequests, timing of gifts, and compliance among others.

Keywords: Gift Tax, Behavioral Effects

JEL Classification: H24, H31

Suggested Citation

Joulfaian, David, The Federal Gift Tax: History, Law, and Economics (November 2007). OTA Papers 100. Available at SSRN: or

David Joulfaian (Contact Author)

U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Tax Analysis (OTA) ( email )

1500 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20220
United States

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