Marriage Penalties in Means-Tested Tax and Transfer Programs

Issues and Options

Publication Date: January 20, 2020


An important report published by ACF’s Office of Family Assistance sheds light on the impact of “marriage penalties” in means-tested programs. Marriage penalties come about when two individuals stand to receive less public benefits or owe higher taxes if they marry. “Marriage Penalties in Means-Tested Tax and Transfer Programs: Issues and Options” examines how marriage penalties may discourage stable marriage among parents, and identifies possible policy reforms that would eliminate or minimize marriage penalties facing families with children. The paper incorporates input from a broad group of respected experts. It advises that, given the well-documented value of marriage for children and communities, public policy should, at the very minimum, “do no harm” when it comes to marriage rates.

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