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Trivia: A tax system puzzle December 31, 2017

Posted by Tomboktu in Bits and Pieces, Gender Issues.

Paddy Healy’s comment (here) on the post about The future of work looks very much like the past… reminds me of a puzzling piece of data I saw during the year. (Now, there’s a line to make the heart skip with joy!)

A paper by Seán Kennedy (of the Revenue Commissioners) and Yosuke Jin, David Haugh and Patrick Lenain (of the OECD) uses access to the full Irish income tax data to quantify economic mobility in Ireland between 1997 and 2012 (55-page PDF available here).

For those of us concerned with economic inequality, the most interesting tables show the distribution across the population, and the extent of mobility from the bottom 10% percent to the top 10% (and all brackets at 20%, 30%, etc., between) and vice versa. Other tables show more detail on industrial sector, tax type (i.e. PAYE v. self-assessed), etc.

But there is one table which puzzles me. It shows transitions in personal status between 2007 and 2012. I can see how a married couple tax unit would become a widow or widower tax unit (0.7% of the married two-earners and 2.3% of the married one-earner tax units, respectively), and I can understand a single male tax unit or a single female tax unit becoming one of the two types of married tax unit (15.8% of the single males and 8.1% of the females changed status).

Here’s the bit that puzzles: the able shows that 0.6% of the widower tax units in 2007 had become widow tax units in 2012 and 0.1% of the widow tax units had become widower tax units in 2012. What quirk of the tax system produces that outcome? Not only was this before gender recognition, but even if gender recognition had been in place, those percentages would seem unrealistic. (And the same table shows that the change from single male tax units to single female tax units and vice versa was zero.)


1. An Cathaoirleach - January 1, 2018

I can only imagine that a small number of records were corrected. From my time spent in a PAYE tax district, very many years ago, there was a gender coding, male & female.In the same way there was a marital coding, single, married, married but living apart & widowed.

Older records tended not to have all of the fields completed, unless the taxpayer made a new claim, e.g. dates of birth.

The completion of the gender coding did not effect any claims, so a small number of errors are likely to have slipped through. In more recent years, the PPS No. is issued when the Child Benefit claim is made, capturing all of the information at that stage. This information is now transferred directly to the Revenue.

Widow/er cases are likely to have been input by taxes staff, purely because of the age of cases. Gender may be one of the codes now changed when Basic Information (BNA) is transferred between the two offices.


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