Although the US tax code does not explicitly reference race or ethnicity, the federal individual income tax can create racial disparities when factors that affect tax liability are associated with race. This paper provides new evidence on racial differences in marriage tax penalties and bonuses, using data from the Survey of Consumer Finances. The results support Brown’s (2021) hypothesis that, controlling for income, penalties are more frequent and larger for Black couples than white couples. This paper links these results to racial differences in income, relative spousal earnings, and the presence of dependents, and examines two policy reforms.
This working paper is an updated version of an earlier report on racial disparities in the income tax code’s treatment of marriage. You can view the original version here. This new version was prepared for the National Bureau of Economic Research.