Remuneration for Domestic Work of Stay-at-Home Moms (or dad?)- Let’s Go For It!

 

There has been a lot of chatter at American Catholic as to what priests from the 1800’s :} thought was a just wage for families. (http://the-american-catholic.com/2010/07/12/just-how-much-is-a-just-wage/) I think it is appropriate to update things with a little authoritative input from Mama Church- from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church- under the all important subject of families- there is this to consider:

b. The family, economic life and work

248. The relationship existing between the family and economic life is particularly significant. On one hand, in fact, the economy (“oiko-nomia”, household management) was born from domestic work. The home has been for a long time — and in many regions still is — a place of production and the centre of life. The dynamism of economic life, on the other hand, develops with the initiative of people and is carried out in the manner of concentric circles, in ever broader networks of production and exchange of goods and services that involves families in continuously increasing measure. The family, therefore, must rightfully be seen as an essential agent of economic life, guided not by the market mentality but by the logic of sharing and solidarity among generations.

249. Family and work are united by a very special relationship. “The family constitutes one of the most important terms of reference for shaping the social and ethical order of human work”.[561] This relationship has its roots in the relation existing between the person and his right to possess the fruit of his labour and concerns not only the individual as a singular person but also as a member of a family, understood as a “domestic society”[562].

Work is essential insofar as it represents the condition that makes it possible to establish a family, for the means by which the family is maintained are obtained through work. Work also conditions the process of personal development, since a family afflicted by unemployment runs the risk of not fully achieving its end[563].

The contribution that the family can make to the reality of work is valuable and, in many instances, irreplaceable. It is a contribution that can be expressed both in economic terms and through the great resources of solidarity that the family possesses and that are often an important support for those within the family who are without work or who are seeking employment. Above all and more fundamentally, it is a contribution that is made by educating to the meaning of work and by offering direction and support for the professional choices made.

250. In order to protect this relationship between family and work, an element that must be appreciated and safeguarded is that of a family wage, a wage sufficient to maintain a family and allow it to live decently[564]. Such a wage must also allow for savings that will permit the acquisition of property as a guarantee of freedom. The right to property is closely connected with the existence of families, which protect themselves from need thanks also to savings and to the building up of family property[565]. There can be several different ways to make a family wage a concrete reality. Various forms of important social provisions help to bring it about, for example, family subsidies and other contributions for dependent family members, and also remuneration for the domestic work done in the home by one of the parents[566].

251. In the relationship between the family and work, particular attention must be given to the issue of the work of women in the family, more generally to the recognition of the so-called work of “housekeeping”, which also involves the responsibility of men as husbands and fathers. The work of housekeeping, starting with that of the mother, precisely because it is a service directed and devoted to the quality of life, constitutes a type of activity that is eminently personal and personalizing, and that must be socially recognized and valued[567], also by means of economic compensation in keeping with that of other types of work[568]. At the same time, care must be taken to eliminate all the obstacles that prevent a husband and wife from making free decisions concerning their procreative responsibilities and, in particular, those that do not allow women to carry out their maternal role fully[569].

The line – “The family, therefore, must rightfully be seen as an essential agent of economic life, guided not by the market mentality but by the logic of sharing and solidarity among generations.” – really stands out for me as evidence that the “market mentality” is not really the thinking of Christ and Church- so when will those Catholics who cling to their false idol of the marketplace finally let go and let God? :}

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41 Responses to Remuneration for Domestic Work of Stay-at-Home Moms (or dad?)- Let’s Go For It!

  1. Christina says:

    I am all for recognizing that homemakers make essential contributions to the well being of families, and therefore society as a whole. I’m not sure how remuneration or family subsidies would work in practice in the US, though.

    Under our current system in the US, this would most likely take the form of doling out tax dollars. Essentially, taking money from the breadwinner’s paycheck, spending some of it on bureaucracy (after all, someone has to keep track of all of this) and then sending what is left back to families. Seems like lowering tax rates would be a much more efficient way to keep that money where it belongs.

    Thoughts?

  2. restrainedradical says:

    We kind of do already by giving married couples the same tax treatment as two single people. We should eliminate all marriage penalties like the ones in ObamaCare.

  3. Blackadder says:

    There can be several different ways to make a family wage a concrete reality. Various forms of important social provisions help to bring it about, for example . . . remuneration for the domestic work done in the home by one of the parents.

    The Tories in Britain were talking about doing something like this (link), and I believe some of the baltic states do so as well.

  4. M.Z. says:

    We should eliminate all marriage penalties
    A lot of “marriage penalties” are the taxing of the second spouses income as if it were that of the first. It tends to mostly effect upper portion of middle class households. The functional cutoff for families with children paying income taxes is right around $50,000 due to the child tax credit. Where families start really feeling the income tax is after $80,000. $88,000 puts you in the top fifth of households.

  5. Phillip says:

    Another reason to repeal the Estate Tax. Why take properties from families? Mama Church I’m sure would agree.

  6. I can certainly see the benefit of arranging taxes or incentives in order to make it easier for families with a stay-at-home mother (or husband), given that such couples can find themselves struggling against the tide of a society in which almost all families are two income families. However the idea of the state specifically paying mothers a wage for at-home family care labor strikes me as rather concerning, though I’m sure that the writers of the CSDC have their hearts in the right place. As they point out, the family itself is a fundamental building block of society which has an economic aspect to it in the sense that one of the senses in which spouses (and when their old enough children) express their mutual love and duty to one another is thought work (both attaining income and household work) done for each other and the care of the family as a whole.

    Thus, it seems to me fundamental that in a single income family (which is what we’re talking about here) the one spouse understands that his work is not merely his work and his income but is work and income for the family as a whole. The working spouses career is not something individual, his own matter through which he chooses to provide for the others, but rather part of his duty as a spouse and parent. Similarly, the work of the homemaker, nurturer, teacher, etc. is something done by the stay-at-home spouse for the family as a whole, as part of her contribution to that whole.

    Having the state interpose and actually provide a wage to the homemaker seems to me that it sense a message of fragmentation and individualism: you have your work and I have mine, we are both paid, we are equal individuals and interdependent parts of a whole.

    In this regard, it seems to me that any financial help or incentives aimed towards the maintenance of stay-at-home parenting needs to be focused around the household as a whole, not the idea of assigning a wage to homemaking. Such ideas would include:

    -Tax incentives such as a per-capita tax rate including all members of the household, rather than the “single or married with dependents” approach we have now.

    -Household-based negative income tax assuring a minimum level of subsistence for all families based on size and agnostic to the number of people working.

    -Just wages on head-of-household type jobs.

    etc.

  7. Phillip says:

    MZ is right. As your income increases your spouses taxes go way up. My wife’s teacher’s salary was being taxed at my physician’s rate. One of the reasons she stopped working. As CST teaches, taxes shouldn’t discourage productivity. The current tax model in the US does.

  8. Tim Shipe says:

    Definitely would require either a new tax revenue stream and/or a switching over of some tax revenues already in the mix- some ideas could be some combination of the following:

    – re-direct any/all funding for Planned Parenthood- domestic and international- monies should be directed at moms/dads who have welcomed children and need a little boost and acknowledgement that the domestic work is worthy/godly work vital to a healthy society- rather than directing monies at getting more men and women to reject their own fertility- leading to culture of death/Brave New World outcomes.

    – Put something like a $1000 tax on all abortions- if men/women of means want to kill off their offspring then they should be contributing to the poor/lower middle class men/women who are trying to provide for their kids, not kill them. If the pro-abortion lobbies want to bemoan this tax as warfare on poor women, then they should just provide “scholarships” to pay the tax for poor women- if it is really that important to them that poor women kill their children the same as rich women. Of course, it would make more sense to lobby and provide monies to women to help them keep their babies, not kill them- but that logic hasn’t embedded itself in the modern, secular feminist lobby. Feminists for Life being the glaring and hopeful exception.

    – If we are going to tax – and we are going to continue taxing- then I see the best place to do so in the short-term capital gains arena- this is the easiest money out there- it is often the result of some kind of quasi-insider knowledge trades, or large speculators moving loads of investment monies from one thing to the next in short order- creating their own waves and raking in parasitical profits. Wall St. should operate in a way that gives public companies longer term investments to give them the opportunity to get on their feet, or get more R&D in the pike to translate into better/safer products/services. But in the current system everything is moving at the speed of greed- large investment firms can belly up to the bar and make or break companies/currencies/commodities in a matter of hours. Everyone is so concerned with the short term that the Proverb warnings that a society without vision will soon perish- go unheeded. So put higher taxes on the shortest profit turnarounds- it was easy money or some lucky day trading- they will still get paid, but it is a great place to raise tax revenue and not hurt those who depend on earned income, and also slow the demand for bubble investment markets- at least if the bubble develops with a lot of “flipping” going on- it will be more of a pay-as-you-go system- with the monies going to working families all along- allowing moms (or dads) to stay home, not clogging the employment market especially during down times, and more importantly to be home taking care of the kids, home, and local community interests.

  9. Christina says:

    DarwinCatholic, I like how you put this:

    “Thus, it seems to me fundamental that in a single income family (which is what we’re talking about here) the one spouse understands that his work is not merely his work and his income but is work and income for the family as a whole. The working spouses career is not something individual, his own matter through which he chooses to provide for the others, but rather part of his duty as a spouse and parent. Similarly, the work of the homemaker, nurturer, teacher, etc. is something done by the stay-at-home spouse for the family as a whole, as part of her contribution to that whole.

    Having the state interpose and actually provide a wage to the homemaker seems to me that it sense a message of fragmentation and individualism: you have your work and I have mine, we are both paid, we are equal individuals and interdependent parts of a whole.”

    I grew up in a single-income family, and saw that my father’s work was actually much easier for him because of my mother’s hard work at home. Their mutual dependence upon one another led to mutual ownership of their achievements.

  10. Mike Petrik says:

    One irony is that marriage penalties may actually incent moms to stay at home for the reasons Phillip suggests.

  11. Phillip says:

    There is the benefit as Christina notes in that I work less hard at home with my wife now staying at home. The flip side is I work somewhat harder at work to make sure there is enough for retirement – not so much for me as my wife which (given my profession and my wife’s familial longevity) may be 30 years past my passing. Also since she stopped working she no longer qualifies for the diocesan retirement plan. One reason I don’t like Estate Tax. It takes away from the mutal earnings of my wife an I (including the stay-at-home work of my wife) as well as the property I choose to leave to my children for their security (also part of CST).

    The flip side is my wife is an excellent teacher. That’s the reason she has continued to teach after our marriage. The Catholic school that she left (as well as many of the parents) begged her not to leave. She was (unfortunately) one of the solid Catholic voices there teaching the children the Catholic faith and not some watered down secular vision. There’s the reason why many parents wanted her to stay. Part of the loss of “productivity” (against CST) is solid Catholic teaching in the school.

    Tim,

    CST is not a monolith. People reach different conclusions using CST and for good reasons. As CST teaches, people of good faith can, and do, reach different conclusions. So statements like “Mama Church” and getting “spankings” are condescending and represent on your part a shallow understanding of what CST really is. Clean it up.

  12. Tim Shipe says:

    I’m just quoting official Church documents which offer the actual content of our social doctrine- something is very rare to find on ideologically-inclined Left/Right Catholic blogs- sorry if my colorful expressions leave you feeling exposed and vulnerable- I’ve read much, much, much, much harsher criticisms coming from the dominant conservative branch of American Catholic- do you really want a monopoly of opinion here at AC? Just because there can a certain range of interpretations and application of CST principles doesn’t mean that ‘anything goes’ as long as you say you are orthodox or conservative- as if that good intent along with being opposed to abortion makes one’s views on economics et al right in line with the Church teachings- if my prudential judgment says otherwise and I’m providing actual social teaching documentation to make my point- then I won’t just stand down and ‘clean up my act’ to keep everyone in conservative land self-contented. Let me be that spur in your heel- everyone needs one- I have Left and Right spurs all over my feet. Word of advice- give up the thin skin, unless someone is a threat to your person or family- let him speak- we are all little children so scolding is part of the deal.

  13. Phillip says:

    I don’t feel exposed and vulnerable. I spent 21 years in the Navy and had far harsher words used when they really applied. Certainly your words are not hurtful especially since your application here does not apply.

    But if you’re going to critique conservative positions, then critique them. You point to the discussion on a “just wage.” Actually BA has made a very persuasive argument (supported by others) that a just wage is not what I suspect a lot of people who wield CST would conclude it should be. What he argues a just wage should be is in no way contradicted by you quotes from the Compendium. His conclusions about a just wage are quite compatible with your quotes.

    So let me scold your inner child. What is wrong with the analysis of a just wage that you link from CST?

  14. Tim Shipe says:

    We aren’t about to ban polemical language from non-conservative voices are we? I get scolded, I scold, bloggers tend to use colorful language- especially when there is a difference of opinion- it isn’t necessarily disrespectful because one can respect persons even when they don’t respect someone’s opinion- that is why I usually direct my comments at a general audience like “conservatives” or “liberals” only because so many people like to categorize themselves that way- much to my displeasure- why put yourself in a Left/Right box when it should be obvious the actual documents of the Church social doctrine aren’t so narrowly conceived. And if one isn’t a textbook example of a “conservative” or “liberal” one shouldn’t take that great of offense to my criticisms since I am directing my discontent at the ideology not any one particular person- whereas I usually get the full barrage directed at my person since I cannot be tied to any one ideological prejudice

  15. Phillip says:

    Waaaah.

    “…I cannot be tied to any one ideological prejudice.”

    I got the names of a few eye doctors. (Hey polemical language is okay.)

    Now answer the question.

  16. restrainedradical says:

    Put something like a $1000 tax on all abortions

    Unfortunately, almost certainly unconstitutional.

    If trading is a morally neutral activity, capital gains should not be taxed at all, unless we switch from an income tax to a consumption tax. And I believe it is a morally neutral activity. Short-term trades provide liquidity and market equilibrium. The negatives usually associated with short-term trading can be better remedied through corporate governance reform.

  17. Tim Shipe says:

    “The line – “The family, therefore, must rightfully be seen as an essential agent of economic life, guided not by the market mentality but by the logic of sharing and solidarity among generations.” – really stands out for me as evidence that the “market mentality” is not really the thinking of Christ and Church- so when will those Catholics who cling to their false idol of the marketplace finally let go and let God? :}”

    Is this the part that you have the original problem with? I’m saying that there is a real danger in having a purely “market mentality” just like the Compendium states- I criticize any and all who are always going to come down to the argument- “let the market have it’s way- any and all government regulation/restriction/intervention only makes the economic conditions worse” This is an ideological position that has great weight in our American political debate- my point is that there is consistent evidence in the official teachings of our Church to say that we should not be confined to such an ideology of unbridled free markets everywhere all the time- the role of political authority as defined and elaborated in the social doctrine is not one that is to be so excluded from a role in shaping/directing economic forces/players.

    I did not criticize the comments that were suggesting various tax strategies/policies to create family wages- as opposed to the State or states cutting checks for moms like they were working for the Political State as in some kind of Socialist paradise. Again- I repeat- I am only targeting “conservatives” in the textbook sense when they adhere to an ideology of pure market mentality- the cult of consumerism if you will by way of completely unregulated economic activity- or unregulated/undirected to such a degree as to make the political/trade union/human rights/Church/scientific/environmental expert communities irrelevant to the economy as a whole- only as far as they may influence particual consumer behavior that is- my take is that many forces have to play together to make up the official and unofficial guidelines of any general economy- to go entirely on the side of government direction or control is too much or literally socialism, to go the other way is also to be criticised by faithful CAtholics as is obvious from the extensive treatment of economy and political authority’s responsibility in the long line of social encyclicals and the recent official Compendium. So where in what I wrote above originally was your complaint- since I didn’t write my comment directed at BA but in response to the line laid down in the Compendium?

    I may be a while in following up- duties call with little kids at my feet and mama and child hopefully coming home from the hospital a little later today. I am sorry to give offense to anyone personally- I am trying to keep my passions and intellect directed at the ideas- the use of polemics is so hard to avoid for me- I like to mix it up on paper anyway. I have the most colorful arguments over probably the silliest stuff with my wife and best friends- it is a way to get some juices flowing. By the way- I see myself as partially conservative, partially liberal, and more- so I don’t want to leave the impression that I just hate conservatives or even liberals when it comes to politics- I would have to hate parts of myself- I only hate my sins

  18. M.Z. says:

    I think others have greater claims justice than those that have to suffer living amongst the top 20% of society. In particular, I fail to see the justice of taxing the other 80% more so that some gal can feel appreciated for laboring. You would think she could be thankful enough that work is a luxury for her.

  19. Phillip says:

    Actually that “gal” is my wife and you are a jerk.

  20. Blackadder says:

    Tim,

    As a matter of logic, saying that a “market mentality” isn’t an appropriate guide for family life doesn’t imply that such a “market mentality” isn’t an appropriate guide elsewhere (say, in markets). Jennifer Roback Morse, for example, once wrote a book subtitled “Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn’t Work,” yet she does largely favor a laissez-faire policy in the economic realm.

  21. restrainedradical says:

    MZ, why don’t you advocate a more progressive tax AND elimination of marriage penalties instead of attempting to do the former in a round-about way?

  22. Phillip says:

    Tim,

    But there is nothing about BA’s analysis of a just wage that is purely “market mentality.” It looks at what is necessary for a family to maintain their dignity. This includes issues related to solidarity.

    There is nothing in CST that claims that there should be no classes and that all outcomes should be equal. There is no necessarily claim in CST that income should necessarily be distributed from one income group to another to ensure equal outcome.

    BA’s analysis is not necessarily market-based and is still consistent with the contention that the poorer are being taken care of and justice is met.

  23. M.Z. says:

    Much of the marriage penalty went away with the large expansions of the child tax credit. Now we’re pretty much talking about subsidizing DINKs or high-income households. They are greater thinks to be concerned about.

  24. M.Z. says:

    Pardon, there are greater things to be concerned about.

    I know we’re supposed to be crying a river for poor Phillip here whose wife is forced to stay home and soon will be collecting welfare checks from social security and the military, but we all have our burdens.

  25. Phillip says:

    M.Z.

    She of course will collect them because we both worked for them. I apologize calling you a jerk. You are much worse.

  26. Phillip says:

    But of course as I point out, classes will remain and there is no call in CST to equalize outcome.

  27. Mike Petrik says:

    MZ,
    Allowing people to keep the money they earn is not subsidization. And military pensions are not welfare. Social security does have a welfare component, but it is still predominately a defined benefit plan, albeit poorly designed and funded.
    Also, there is something disturbing about people choosing not to work because the taxes are too high, even if it does not rise to the level of our most compelling injustice. I’m not aware of any tax policy expert (and I actually know quite a few) who views such a phenomenon as either fair or desirable. Nonetheless all taxes carry excess burdens and third-party effects to some degree, and it may be that on balance the vertical equity benefits of progressive rates trumps the concerns raised by Phillip. But that is certainly an easier call to make when one perversely views the failure to pay such higher marginal rates as subsidization.

  28. Phillip says:

    Not only that, but with our change in income, even with my increased productivity, we will make less. We will thus pay less taxes. So less in to the govt. both state and Federal to redistribute elsewhere.

    But I think people like MZ see economics as a zero-sum game. If one makes more, another must make less. Any increase in one person’s income must be the result of injustice and loss to another. Can’t see that one person’s productivity does not necessarily take from another and may even add to it.

  29. Christina says:

    Not only that, but with our change in income, even with my increased productivity, we will make less. We will thus pay less taxes. So less in to the govt. both state and Federal to redistribute elsewhere.

    On the flip side, it has been my observation that at-home spouses, along with students and retirees, do a lot of the charitable volunteer work that needs doing during regular business hours. In addition to this there is the important task of supervising children outside of school or even taking full responsibility for the entire early education of children through homeschooling. If one accepts the premise that such social and educational services are the State’s financial responsibility, then homemakers, though not contributing to state coffers through income taxes, reduce the need for government spending. 🙂

  30. Elaine Krewer says:

    “Homemakers… reduce the need for government spending”

    More stay at home parents (can be either parent, sometimes the wife has better or more stable employment prospects) would mean less need for state-subsidized child care or preschools. It could also mean less need for elderly care or nursing homes. My mom worked part-time after my brother and I were born, but quit and stayed home full time after her mother in law developed Alzheimer’s and could no longer be left alone during the day. My grandmother did eventually have to move to a nursing home anyway as her condition deteriorated, but she probably had 3-5 extra years at home since my mom was around to care for her.

    The social networking that the stay at home moms of the Baby Boom and earlier eras developed helped fill a lot of the needs that people have come to rely upon paid help or government assistance for today — not just child care and elderly care but, as Christina pointed out, volunteering for local church and charitable groups, and also just a general neighborhood watch function. When moms (or dads) are home during the day, keep in touch with their neighbors and know what everyone’s kids are up to, there’s considerably less mischief.

  31. Phillip says:

    Agreed that there are benefits to one parent staying at home. I just point out that there are direct costs of taxes and that these costs also influence other decisions that in turn have consequences. Such considerations are in the abstract. For my family, my child is in the same school as my wife taught and the costs to us were the costs of a Catholic school. Besides he actually enjoyed being in the same school. She will be homeschooling as noted which in turn has its own pluses and minuses. She is looking forward to teaching our child. She also feels a loss communicating the faith to other children and contributing to the mission of Catholic schools (a much needed apostolate today.)

    So again, pluses and minuses.

  32. I criticize any and all who are always going to come down to the argument- “let the market have it’s way- any and all government regulation/restriction/intervention only makes the economic conditions worse” This is an ideological position that has great weight in our American political debate-

    I’m wondering if it’s actually the case that much of any conservatives are against any and all government intervention/regulation. For instance, I know of passing few conservatives who say that there should not be any unemployment insurance — which is government administered and required via regulation. Or who argue there should be no assistance at all for the indigent.

    Conservatives do, however, often make market-based arguments that certain attempts to help the poor or insure justice won’t work — based on their understanding of how markets function. For instance, conservatives might argue that legally requiring that 10% of apartments be rented out at below a certain price in order to help the poor (price controls) would actually make things worse rather than helping the poor.

    Or closer to this topic — a while back I argued that legally requiring employers to pay people with children more than people without children would simply end up hurting people with more children rather than helping them, and thus be a bad idea.

    That’s not the same thing as idolizing the market, though, it’s arguing that the market comes into play in certain circumstances.

  33. S.B. says:

    By the way, it’s impossible for a tax system to 1) treat all households equally, 2) be progressive, and simultaneously 3) not have a marriage penalty. You can have 2 out of 3 of those goals, but not all three.

    If you treat all households equally, then Household A (with two earners making $50,000 apiece) has to be taxed the same as Household B (with one earner making $100,000). But in a progressive tax system, this means that the $50,000 earners necessarily are taxed MORE than if they were single. This is a marriage penalty.

    If you get rid of the marriage penalty, then the $50,000 earners are taxed at the lower rate. But then Household B is penalized for having one earner rather than two earners — now, instead of a “marriage penalty,” you have a “stay-at-home parent penalty.”

  34. restrainedradical says:

    SB, I don’t follow. “But in a progressive tax system, this means that the $50,000 earners necessarily are taxed MORE than if they were single.” How so?

  35. RL says:

    Because the two incomes are combined and taxed at the higher 100k rate. Divide the tax burden in half and you’ll see that each marriage partner paid a higher tax burden than they would have if they were single.

  36. restrainedradical says:

    But the tax bracket thresholds are doubled so their liabilities are identical.

  37. Phillip says:

    I think what RL is saying is that someone earning 50K migh pay 18k in taxes. But if combined income pushes the two earners into another tax bracket, then instead of 36K they might pay 40k.

  38. restrainedradical says:

    It wouldn’t push him into a higher tax bracket because the bracket thresholds are doubled. Two people earning the same amount will have identity tax liabilities whether married or single.

    The disparate impact occurs when the two earners don’t earn the same amount. For example, a couple earning $100K and $20K respectively will pay less in taxes than two single people earning $100K and $20K respectively. The married couple will receive the same tax treatment as a married couple or two single people earning $60K each. In other words, tax treatment of marriage can be thought of as equalizing the income between the two spouses to fall into the lowest tax bracket possible.

    The only way to avoid that would be to have everyone file separately but it’s too easy to move money between spouses to enforce. Besides, if spouses are theoretically doing equally valuable work, they should be treated as having equal income.

  39. While any set of regulations is likely to have unintended and undesireable consequences, I must admit that the marriage penalty is one that I find it hard to get worked up about. Though, of course, since it afflicts only two income households it’s not targeting the demographic I tend to worry most about.

    If anything, my worries tend to be in the opposite direction, in that I would prefer to see taxes more indexed to family size — though the per-child tax credits are starting to add up to being close to this.

  40. Phillip says:

    Here from a tax advice website:

    “If you’re married, you and your spouse must decide whether to file jointly or separately.

    In the vast majority of cases, filing jointly will result in a lower total family tax bill. The tax rates for joint filers have the effect of “leveling out” the income, exemptions, and deductions of each spouse, so that each spouse is essentially treated as having half of the total net income. For slightly more than half of married couples, this results in a “marriage bonus,” because the couple pays less in tax than they would if they each made the same income and were single. This is usually the case where one spouse’s earnings are much higher than the other’s.

    For couples where each spouse makes roughly the same income, however, there is often a “marriage penalty” in which the second wage earner’s income pushes the couple into a higher tax bracket than either spouse would face if they were single. This situation can sometimes, but unfortunately not often, be helped if the couple files separately rather than jointly.”

    I think there is the possibility for taxes to be higher for some families as RL noted.

    I think this is the situation in my family which is why when I enter my wife’s salary we wind up paying a whole lot more taxes as we go into another bracket. I think my CPA agrees with this though maybe he has been giving poor advice for the past couple of years.

  41. restrainedradical says:

    Did some more research. I see was SB was saying now.

    Currently, there is a marriage penalty above the 25% bracket, i.e., above $137,300 so if both spouses earn more than $68,650 and their incomes aren’t wildly different, they would’ve been better off single.

    The CBO has a nice explanation of marriage penalties and bonuses: http://www.cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=7&type=0&sequence=2

    The marriage bonus (or single penalty) would currently occur when one member of the couple earns less than $68,650 and their combined income exceeds $137,300. In that case, they’re better of married than single. There’s no way to treat marriage neutrally as long as we have a progressive tax. But like I said, I don’t think it should be treated neutral if we accept the idea that spouses do equally valuable work even though they have have disparate incomes. This idea has other implications. Post-marriage income should be treated as joint and divided in half if they divorce. If you want a pre-nup allocating future income in case of divorce, your tax liability should be adjusted accordingly as well.

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