Article | Review of Economic Studies | October 2011

The Surprising Power of Age-Dependent Taxes

by Matthew C. Weinzierl


This article provides a new, empirically driven application of the dynamic Mirrleesian framework by studying a feasible and potentially powerful tax reform: age-dependent labor income taxation. I show analytically how age dependence improves policy on both the intratemporal and intertemporal margins. I use detailed numerical simulations, calibrated with data from the U.S. PSID, to generate robust policy implications: age dependence (1) lowers marginal taxes on average and especially on high-income young workers and (2) lowers average taxes on all young workers relative to older workers when private saving and borrowing are restricted. Finally, I calculate and characterize the welfare gains from age dependence. Despite its simplicity, age dependence generates a welfare gain equal to between 0.6% and 1.5% of aggregate annual consumption, and it captures more than 60% of the gain from reform to the dynamic optimal policy. The gains are due to substantial increases in both efficiency and equity. When age dependence is restricted to be Pareto-improving, the welfare gain is nearly as large.

Keywords: Age; Income Characteristics; Mathematical Methods; Taxation; Policy; Welfare or Wellbeing; United States;


Weinzierl, Matthew C. "The Surprising Power of Age-Dependent Taxes." Review of Economic Studies 78, no. 4 (October 2011): 1490–1518. (Also Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 11-114, May 2011.)