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Research argues older workers in U.S. should pay higher taxes than younger workers

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A new research paper from Northwestern University and the University of Kent claims that, on average, workers become more productive over their working life, as they’re able to learn by doing and accordingly should pay a higher rate of tax as they become older.

Using a model capturing the key features of the U.S. economy, researchers determined that the average tax rate paid by earners in the age bracket 45-65 should be 5% higher than the average tax rate paid by workers in the age bracket 20-44 in the United States.

The research advises that reforming the current U.S. tax code by adopting such tax differences across age brackets could bring welfare gains to each taxpayer equivalent to those brought in by a 4% increase in annual consumption throughout their entire work life.

Such gains are significant to warrant the consideration of policymakers and shape the debate on how to best reform existing tax codes in the U.S. and other developed economies.

“A reduction in the taxes levied on young earners paired, where necessary, with an increase in the taxes levied on older workers, may bring significant welfare gains,” said the paper’s co-author Alessandro Pavan, professor of economics at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern. 

“This is because age-dependent taxes permit the government to generate tax revenues more efficiently by reducing the distortions in labor supply of those workers, the young, whose investments in human capital count the most. Furthermore, by incentivizing the young to work more to boost their productivity, the government can take advantage of a more productive population when the young turn old, collecting taxes from them in a less distortionary manner, which also brings non-negligible welfare gains.”

Miltos Makris, professor of economics at Kent and co-author of the paper said: “Our motivation was to understand the implications for the design of income tax code and the alleviation of inequality of taking into account that learning by doing is an important determinant of workers’ productivity.” 

“Taxation under Learning by Doing” was published May 5 in the Journal of Political Economy.  Download the paper here.