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Selected Publications

The Hours of Work Response of Married Couples: Taxes and the Earned Income Tax Credit

Hoynes, Hilary. “The Hours of Work Response of Married Couples: Taxes and the Earned Income Tax Credit,” in Tax Policy and Labor Market Performance, Jonas Agell and Peter Birch Sorensen, eds. MIT Press, 2006 (with Nada Eissa).


The EITC is currently the largest, federal cash-transfer program for low-income families, with expenditures of almost $34 billion dollars in 2002. Advocates of the credit argue that this redistribution occurs with much less distortion to labor supply than that caused by other elements of the welfare system. Empirical evidence has established that the credit “encourages work effort” among eligible female household heads. Less recognized is the fact that these positive work incentives are unlikely to hold among married couples. Theory suggests that while primary earners (typically men) would increase labor force participation, secondary earners would reduce their labor supply in response to an EITC. We study the hours worked response of married couples to several EITC expansions between 1984 and 1996. While our primary interest is the response to changes in the budget set induced by the EITC, our identification strategy takes account of budget set changes caused by federal tax policy, as well as cross-sectional differences in non-labor income and family size. We estimate reduced-form hours of work equations using instrumental variables to account for the endogeneity of net of tax wages and virtual income. Our instruments are based on tax reforms and trace out the budget set. The results show that EITC expansions between 1984 and 1996 led to modest reductions in hours worked by married men and married women. Overall, married women in the labor force are estimated to decrease hours worked by between 1 and 4 percent. Women in the phase-out range of the credit experience the greatest reductions, between 3 and 17 percent. Overall, the evidence suggests that family labor supply and pretax earnings fell.

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