International research project aims to investigate how tax laws and policies contribute to gender inequality

Tax policies of most countries are constructed in a seemingly neutral way, and are meant to give the same impact regardless of the taxpayer’s gender. But the policies can disfavour some groups in society, due to the taxpayer’s social prerequisites. The research project "ReTax - Rethinking tax neutrality - a multiple gender critique of fiscal structures and processes" intends to investigate how tax policies really are implemented, and how they in reality create more unequal societies.

Photo left: Åsa Gunnarsson, Professor of Law

The UN Convention of the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the 5th UN Sustainability Development Goal aims to erase all discrimination of women and girls, and to achieve gender equality. Nevertheless, earlier research shows the structural disadvantages women experience in relation to taxation. In the ReTax project, researchers from Europe, North America, the BRICS countries and the Asia Pacific region will illuminate how gender inequalities shape and are shaped by tax laws, economic forces and governance in welfare states.
"Women’s general living conditions such as lower incomes, more domestic care responsibilities and limited mobility are of no concern in tax law making. In this project, we want to identify legal structures or legal discourses in which the patterns of social power reside, and that sustains gender inequalities between men and women," says Åsa Gunnarsson, Professor of Law at Umeå University, and principle investigator of the ReTax project.

Discriminatory tax regulations in relation to secondary earners

"Independent income taxation for spouses are globally not a rule but an exception. The only EU countries that practise pure income taxation are Sweden and Finland. Joint taxation of spouses, as well as household income based tax deductions for family related costs that replaces transfers of social benefits, gives disadvantageous effects for secondary earners in the family. These tax regimes foster breadwinner family models that undermines most economic theories on the constitution of sustainable welfare economies. The breadwinner tax regimes are deeply culturally rooted and encapsulate women in a subordinated and dependent position with few incentives to become a self-supportive individual," continues Åsa Gunnarsson.

Tax regulations and human rights

The researchers are also interested in how large organisations influence states when deciding on tax regulations. Åsa Gunnarsson explains:
"Many countries have agreed to comply to international economic governance, under for example multi-level governance such as the EU. This includes to consider human rights in policy making and to do gender budget analysis, and we are of course interested in how countries meet those demands. In this, it is interesting to look at what influence international economic governance organisations, such as the IMF, the OECD and G20, have on shaping state level tax policies. One part of the project will also analyse proactive taxation processes in some of the participating countries from a gender perspective, to see if tax agencies could take further measures to identify and address gender differences in tax compliance."

In the end of the project, the researchers hope that their findings will contribute to an increased awareness of how tax regulations can effect groups in society differently.
"Hopefully, this will expand our understanding of how gendered patterns of power are encoded in social, economic and legal structures of a state. We hope that our findings will make a gender impact on welfare states’ fiscal policies," says Åsa Gunnarsson.

ReTax - Rethinking tax neutrality - a multiple gender critique of fiscal structures and processes is funded with SEK 6,500,000 by the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation. Duration 2016-2020.


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