A progressive tax
is a tax
in which the tax rate
increases as the taxable amount increases.
The term progressive
refers to the way the tax rate progresses from low to high, with the result that a taxpayer's average tax rate
is less than the person's marginal tax rate
The term can be applied to individual taxes or to a tax system as a whole. Progressive taxes are imposed in an attempt to reduce the tax incidence
of people with a lower ability to pay
, as such taxes shift the incidence increasingly to those with a higher ability-to-pay. The opposite of a progressive tax is a regressive tax
, such as a sales tax, where the poor pay a larger proportion of their income compared to the rich.
The term is frequently applied in reference to personal income taxes
, in which people with lower income
pay a lower percentage of that income in tax than do those with higher income. It can also apply to adjustments of the tax base by using tax exemptions
, tax credits
, or selective taxation that creates progressive distribution effects. For example, a wealth
or property tax
a sales tax on luxury goods
, or the exemption of sales taxes on basic necessities, may be described as having progressive effects as it increases the tax burden of higher income families and reduces it on lower income families.
Progressive taxation is often suggested as a way to mitigate the societal ills associated with higher income inequality
as the tax structure reduces inequality,
but economists disagree on the tax policy's economic and long-term effects.
One study suggests progressive taxation can be positively associated with happiness
, the subjective well-being of nations and citizen satisfaction with public goods
, such as education and transportation.
In the early days of the Roman Republic
, public taxes consisted of assessments on owned wealth and property. For Roman citizens, the tax rate under normal circumstances was 1% of property value, and could sometimes climb as high as 3% in situations such as war. These taxes were levied against land, homes and other real estate, slaves, animals, personal items and monetary wealth. By 167 BC, Rome no longer needed to levy a tax against its citizens in the Italian peninsula, due to the riches acquired from conquered provinces. After considerable Roman expansion in the 1st century, Augustus Caesar introduced a wealth tax of about 1% and a flat poll tax
on each adult; this made the tax system less progressive, as it no longer only taxed wealth.
The United Kingdom income tax was reintroduced by Sir Robert Peel
in the Income Tax Act 1842
. Peel, as a Conservative
, had opposed income tax in the 1841 general election
, but a growing budget deficit required a new source of funds. The new income tax, based on Addington's model, was imposed on incomes above £150. Although this measure was initially intended to be temporary, it soon became a fixture of the British taxation system. A committee was formed in 1851 under Joseph Hume
to investigate the matter, but failed to reach a clear recommendation. Despite the vociferous objection, William Gladstone
, Chancellor of the Exchequer
from 1852, kept the progressive income tax, and extended it to cover the costs of the Crimean War
. By the 1860s, the progressive tax had become a grudgingly accepted element of the English fiscal system.
Marginal and effective tax rates
German marginal and average income tax rates display a progressive structure.
The rate of tax can be expressed in two different ways; the marginal rate
expressed as the rate on each additional unit of income or expenditure (or last dollar spent) and the effective (average) rate
expressed as the total tax paid divided by total income or expenditure. In most progressive tax systems, both rates will rise as the amount subject to taxation rises, though there may be ranges where the marginal rate will be constant. Usually, the average tax rate of a tax payer will be lower than the marginal tax rate. In a system with refundable tax credits
, or income-tested welfare benefits
, it is possible for marginal rates to fall as income rises, at lower levels of income.
Inflation and tax brackets
Tax laws might not be accurately indexed to inflation
. For example, some tax laws may ignore inflation completely. In a progressive tax system, failure to index the brackets to inflation will eventually result in effective tax increases (if inflation is sustained), as inflation in wages will increase individual income and move individuals into higher tax brackets with higher percentage rates. This phenomenon is known as bracket creep
and can cause fiscal drag
There is debate between politicians and economists over the role of tax policy in mitigating or exacerbating wealth inequality
and the effects on economic growth
According to economist Robert H. Frank
, tax cuts for the wealthy are largely spent on positional goods
such as larger houses and more expensive cars. Frank argues that these funds could instead pay for things like improving public education and conducting medical research,
and suggests progressive taxation as an instrument for attacking positional externalities
A report published by the OECD in 2008 presented empirical research showing a weak negative relationship between the progressivity of personal income taxes and economic growth.
Describing the research, William McBride, a staff writer with the conservative Tax Foundation
, stated that progressivity of income taxes can undermine investment, risk-taking, entrepreneurship, and productivity because high-income earners tend to do much of the saving, investing, risk-taking, and high-productivity labor.
According to IMF
, some advanced economies could increase progressivity in taxation for tackling inequality, without hampering growth, as long as progressivity is not excessive. Fund also states that the average top income tax rate for OECD member countries fell from 62 percent in 1981 to 35 percent in 2015, and that in addition, tax systems are less progressive than indicated by the statutory rates, because wealthy individuals have more access to tax relief.
A potentially adverse effect of progressive tax schedules is that they may reduce the incentives for educational attainment.
By reducing the after-tax income of highly educated workers, progressive taxes can reduce the incentives for citizens to attain education, thereby lowering the overall level of human capital
in an economy.
However, this effect can be mitigated by an education subsidy
funded by the progressive tax.
Theoretically, public support for government spending on higher education increases when taxation is progressive, especially when income distribution is unequal.
A 2011 study psychologists Shigehiro Oishi, Ulrich Schimmack, and Ed Diener
, using data from 54 countries, found that progressive taxation was positively associated with the subjective well-being, while overall tax rates and government spending were not. The authors added, "We found that the association between more-progressive taxation and higher levels of subjective well-being was mediated by citizens’ satisfaction with public goods
, such as education and public transportation."
Tax law professor Thomas D. Griffith
, summarizing research on human happiness, has argued that because inequality in a society significantly reduces happiness, a progressive tax structure which redistributes income would increase welfare and happiness in a society.
Since progressive taxation reduces the income
of high earners and is often used as a method to fund government social programs
for low income earners, calls for increasing tax progressivity have sometimes been labeled as envy
or class warfare
while others may describe such actions as fair or a form of social justice
The function which defines the progressive approach to an income tax, may be mathematically defined as a piecewise function
. In every piece (tax bracket
), it must be computed cumulatively, considering the taxes which had already been computed to the previous tax brackets. Pictured is the effective income tax for Portugal in 2012 and 2013.
There are two common ways of computing a progressive tax, corresponding to point–slope form
and slope–intercept form
of the equation for the applicable bracket. These compute the tax either as the tax on the bottom amount of the bracket plus
the tax on the marginal amount within
the bracket; or the tax on the entire amount (at
the marginal rate), minus
the amount that this overstates tax on the bottom end of the bracket.
For example, suppose there are tax brackets of 10%, 20%, and 30%, where the 10% rate applies to income from $1 to $10,000; the 20% rate applies to income from $10,001 to $20,000; and the 30% rate applies to all income above $20,000. In that case the tax on $20,000 of income (computed by adding up tax in each bracket) is 10% × $10,000 + 20% × $10,000 = $1,000 + $2,000 = $3,000. The tax on $25,000 of income could then be computed two ways. Using point–slope form (tax on bottom amount plus tax on marginal amount) yields:
Geometrically, the line for tax on the top bracket passes through the point ($20,000, $3,000) and has a slope of 0.3 (30%).
Alternatively, 30% tax on $20,000 yields 30% × $20,000 = $6,000, which overstates tax on the bottom end of the top bracket by $6,000 − $3,000 = $3,000, so using slope–intercept form yields:
Geometrically, the line for tax on the top bracket intercepts the y-axis at −$3,000 – it passes through the point (0, −$3,000) – and has a slope of 0.3 (30%).
In the United States, the first form was used through 2003, for example (for the 2003 15% Single bracket):
- If the amount on Form 1040, line 40 [Taxable Income], is: Over— 7,000
- But not over— 28,400
- Enter on Form 1040, line 41 [Tax] $700.00 + 15%
- of the amount over— 7,000
From 2004, this changed to the second form, for example (for the 2004 28% Single bracket):
- Taxable income. If line 42 is— At least $100,000 but not over $146,750
- (a) Enter the amount from line 42
- (b) Multiplication amount × 28% (.28)
- (c) Multiply (a) by (b)
- (d) Subtraction amount $5,373.00
- Tax. Subtract (d) from (c). Enter the result here and on Form 1040, line 43
Distribution of US federal taxes from 1979 to 2013, based on CBO Estimates.
Most systems around the world contain progressive aspects. When taxable income falls within a particular tax bracket
, the individual pays the listed percentage of tax on each dollar that falls within that monetary range
. For example, a person in the U.S. who earned $10,000 US of taxable income
(income after adjustments, deductions, and exemptions) would be liable for 10% of each dollar earned from the 1st dollar to the 7,550th dollar, and then for 15% of each dollar earned from the 7,551st dollar to the 10,000th dollar, for a total of $1,122.50.
In the United States
, there are seven income tax brackets ranging from 10% to 39.6% above an untaxed level of income based on the personal exemption
and usually various other tax exemptions, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit
and home mortgage payments. The federal tax rates for individual taxpayers in the United States
for the tax year 2021 are as follows: 10% from $
0 to $9,950; 12% from $9,950 to $40,525; 22% from $40,525 to $86,375; 24% from $86,375 to $164,925; 32% from $164,925 to $209,425; 35% from $209,425 to $523,600; and 37% from $523,600 and over.
The US federal tax system also includes deductions for state and local taxes for lower income households which mitigates what are sometimes regressive taxes, particularly property taxes
. Higher income households are subject to the alternative minimum tax
that limits deductions and sets a flat tax rate of 26% to 28% with the higher rate commencing at $175,000 in income. There are also deduction phaseouts starting at $112,500 for single filers. The net effect is increased progressivity that completely limits deductions for state and local taxes and certain other credits for individuals earning more than $306,300.
In order to counteract regressive state and local taxes, many US states implement progressive income taxes.
32 states and the District of Columbia have graduated-rate income taxes.
The brackets differ across states
There has been a hefty decline in progressivity of the United States federal tax system since the 1960s. The two periods with the largest tax progressivity reductions occurred under the Reagan administration
in the 1980s and the Bush administration
in the 2000s.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017
implemented by President Trump
greatly affected the United States tax system, making it much less progressive than it once was. The act took steps to dramatically lower taxes for high-income households, open deduction loopholes for businesses, and cut the federal corporate tax
rate down to 21 percent.
It maintained the structure of seven tax brackets for personal income, but lowered five of the seven by one percent or more.
has the following personal income tax rates (for the income year 2021): 25% from EUR€
0 to €13,540; 40% from €13,540 to €23,900; 45% from €23,900 to €41,360; and 50% from €41,360 and any amount over.
has the following federal tax rates on income (for the year 2021): 15% from C$
0 to $49,020; 20.5% from $49,020 to $98,040; 26% from $98,040 to $151,978; 29% from $151,978 to $216,511; and 33% on income over $216,511.
has the following state tax rates regarding personal income: 12.11% for the bottom tax base; 15% for the top tax base, or income exceeding DKK
544,800. Additional taxes, such as the municipal tax (which has a country average of 24.971%), the labour market tax, and the church tax, are also applied to individual’s income.
has the following personal income tax rates for a single taxpayer (for the 2020 tax year): 0% up to EUR€
9,744; 14-42% from €9,744 to €57,918; 42% from €57,918 to €274,612; and 45% for €274,612 and any amount over.
has the following personal income tax rates (for the year 2020): 1.9% from NOK
180,800 to NOK254,500; 4.2% from NOK254,500 to NOK639,750; 13.2% from NOK639,750 to NOK999,550; and 16.2% from NOK999,550 and above.
has the following state income tax brackets for natural persons: 0% on income up to SEK
413,200; 20% from SEK 413,200 to SEK 591,600; and 25% from SEK 591,600 and any amount over.
The United Kingdom
has the following income tax rates: 0% from GBP£
0 to £12,570; 20% from £12,571 to £50,270; 40% from £50,271 to £150,000; and 45% from £150,00 and over.
In Scotland, however, there are more tax brackets than in other UK countries. Scotland
has the following additional income tax brackets: 19% from £12,571 to £14,667; 20% from £14,667 to £25,296; 21% from £25,297 to £43,662; 41% from £43,663 to £150,000; and 46% for any amount over £150,000.
has the following income tax brackets (for the 2012–2013 financial year): 10.5% up to NZ$
14,000; 17.5% from $14,001 to $48,000; 30% from $48,001 to $70,000; 33% over $70,001; and 45% when the employee does not complete a declaration form.
All values are in New Zealand dollars and exclude the earner levy.
has the following progressive income tax rates (for the 2012–2013 financial year): 0% effective up to A$
18,200; 19% from $18,201 to $37,000; 32.5% from $37,001 to $80,000; 37% from $80,001 to $180,000; and 45% for any amount over $180,000.
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- ^ Britannica Concise Encyclopedia: Tax levied at a rate that increases as the quantity subject to taxation increases.
- ^ Princeton University WordNet[permanent dead link]: (n) progressive tax (any tax in which the rate increases as the amount subject to taxation increases)
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