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Taxing the ‘Family’ in the Individual Income Tax

Author: JAMES ALM AND MIKHAIL I. MELNIK
Published in PFM, Vol. 5 No. 1

In this paper we examine international practices in the ways in which the individual
income tax is applied to families, focusing upon country practices in OECD countries.
We find that countries differ significantly in their taxation of the family, but that the
dominant practice is the choice of the individual rather than the family as the unit of
taxation. We also calculate the income tax consequences for “representative” taxpayers
across these countries, and find that the differences in taxes between singles and
married couples can often be quite large. We conclude that choosing the individual as
the tax unit is likely to represent the most equitable approach to income taxation,
especially given the increasing complexity of family units in modern societies.

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