Coase-Sandor Working Paper Series in Law and Economics

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Working Paper

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We examine changes in tax progressivity over time. Because there are many possible definitions of progressivity and because methods of defining and allocating income vary, we look for results that are robust across studies and definitions of progressivity. To do this, we compare the results from three different publicly available datasets, those from Piketty, Saez, and Zucman (2018), Auten and Splinter (2023) and Congressional Budget Office (2023). Notwithstanding some headline results to the contrary, all three datasets show that the tax system has become more progressive and more redistributive over the last several decades, with much of that change occurring in recent years. This increase in redistribution is driven primarily by an increase in transfers to households in the bottom half of the income distribution which is missed by a focus on the top 1%. A literature search for other studies confirms this result.

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