The Marriage Penalty


The Marriage Penalty

Two Professors of accounting wrote an excellent opinion piece in the 9/24/09 issue of the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, In).

In this article, Claude Renshaw and Ken Milani explain that the marriage penalty happens when  individuals get married and thereby lose substantial tax credits.

I quote from their article:

“In our opinion, federal income tax provisions that create a hurdle to getting married are unfair to the people involved and unhealthy for a society that already has too many people co-habitating instead of living as husband and wife.”

In another quote, they state:

“Studies continue to report that one of the contributing causes of poverty, illegitimacy, crime, inadequate education and other socioeconomic challenges can be traced to the absence of two married, committed parents in a family. Our current income tax laws don’t seem to help and actually create a hurdle to getting married—or cause a horrible surprise when the newly married couple files their first tax return as husband and wife.”

The one of the great laws of psychology is the Law of Effect. This law states that consequences control behaviors.

You and I allow our government to financially reward those who cohabit and have children out-of-wedlock. We allow our government to financially punish those who marry and have children.

In the meantime we all suffer the social ills that this fragmentation of our vehicle to a better future (married parents and their children) predictably cause.

From a psychological-cultural design perspective, punishing married families with children and rewarding non-married cohabitation and births-out-of-wedlock  is a stupid and self-destructive thing for America to do.

VTM, 9/25/09

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4 Responses to “The Marriage Penalty”

  1. Frank Fujita Says:

    If your goal is to provide an incentive for people to be married and raise children together then you should just do it. Provide $10k per year per child if the biological parents are married to each other. Caesar tried to do this in Rome and failed. If you look across the world, there are many children in the countries that do not have child labor laws. If children are an economic drain, why have many children? But if it makes economic sense to produce children — the people will oblige.

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    • vtmawhinney Says:

      Rome was at “deaths door” several times before it collapsed. Low firtility rates were a problem and they were not able to find a remedy. Financial inducements, as they configured them, did not work. In fact, other developing cultures (relative to their times) also had lowering firtility rates and I have read that they were not able to turn those trends around.

      What is needed is an experimental approach to this apparently universal problem. I cannot know what will work, but I would begin by noting that the United States, with some autonomy given to states, would be a great place to begin to conduct such experiments.

      I am certain that you are on one of the right the tracks. If having children “pays off'” people will have children. I think that our past “well-fare” designs have illustrated that finacial and other material contingencies can work. Your observation that child labor laws could be an important variable is an excellent one.

      VTM, 9/27/09

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  2. vtmawhinney Says:

    Frank,

    Thanks for the very good information about the “marriage penalty”. The article in question did more specifically reference lower socio-economic circumstances, and so you may be right about the broader picture.

    You and I will probably not agree with my main point, but I will make it anyway. A socioculture hobbled by decreasing percents of married parents with children (our birth rate is approaching below replacement) would be wise to provide various incentives for its citizens to marry, have children and raise them effectively.

    The psychological principle of differential reinforcement (ignoring one class of less desirable behaviors and rewarding another class of more desirable behaviors) is applicable here.

    The goal is not to punish those who choose to live together without marriage, or who have children out of wedlock. Rather, the goal would be to provide rewards for those who do marry, who do have children and who stay together to raise them to adulthood.

    I would suggest that America incentivise the fecundity and longevity of marital relationships.

    With the exception of abuse and neglect, it would be beneficial to children and society if children were born into, and raised, in stable familys.

    I would not think it beneficial to let unmarried cohabiting couples file “as if they were married”. At least, not in the sense that they should have all of the social and economic rewards of a married family.

    VTM, 9/26/09

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  3. Frank Fujita Says:

    The marriage penalty is only a penalty when both people make approximately the same amount of money. If one person in the marriage makes a lot more money than the other — like in the traditional family — then there is a marriage credit — where the federal government is subsidizing the stay-at-home mom.

    But, it would be easy to allow any married couple to file as if they were single, and allow any two cohabitating people to file as if they were married, and then there wouldn’t be any penalty.

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