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Working Paper

Marginal Tax Rates and Income Inequality in a Life-Cycle Model

In this paper, we perform computational counterfactual experiments to examine the quantitative impact of marginal tax rates on the distribution of income. Our methodology builds on previous simulation models developed by Auerbach and Kotlikoff and Fullerton and Rogers, and uses an algorithm that allows us to examine marginal tax rate structures in their literal form. We find that distortions associated with particular marginal tax rate structures have sizable effects on income inequality in a reasonably quantified life-cycle setting: In our baseline experiments, the change in steady-state income inequality under 1989 U.S. income tax rates vis-à-vis 1984 rates is about half as large as the change actually seen in the data over those two years, when measured in terms of a monetary metric derived from Gini coefficients.

Working Papers of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland are preliminary materials circulated to stimulate discussion and critical comment on research in progress. They may not have been subject to the formal editorial review accorded official Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland publications. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland or the Federal Reserve System.

Suggested Citation

Altig, David, and Charles T. Carlstrom. 1996. “Marginal Tax Rates and Income Inequality in a Life-Cycle Model.” Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Working Paper No. 96-21.