ABSTRACT

Glaring examples of explicit bias could be found in Europe as recently as 20 years ago: only in 1993 did Ireland move from joint filing in the name of the husband, with an option for separate assessment on labour income for the wife, to an option for the wife to be the ‘primary tax-payer’. The main rules explicitly discriminating against women have since been removed, but some still persist, while others are being advocated ‘in favour’ of women, as in the proposal to lower tax rates for women (the so-called ‘gender-based taxation’: see Alesina et al. 2011) or when child benefit is paid to women in order to empower them in their role as care providers. These latter examples question the use of the word ‘bias’ with reference to current tax codes, because the term carries a negative connotation that is not always warranted. However, the term is now sufficiently entrenched in the literature to make it simpler for us to abide with its conventional use, although we shall often call mere lack of neutrality ‘bias’ as well. Greece offers examples of traditional biases: here, spouses are taxed separately on the basis of their respective incomes, but they file a joint tax return. Although each spouse is formally held responsible for payment of the tax on his/ her income, the husband is formally responsible for submitting the tax return and is the recipient of any refund or any claim for outstanding tax balances (Karamessini 2009). The Maltese tax code offers examples of biases against but also in favour of women. A Maltese married man with a dependent wife is entitled to a higher minimum pension compared to all other beneficiaries; and within married couples unemployment assistance is payable to the head of the household. As of 2005, however, Maltese women, and not men, are entitled to a tax credit in favour of those who return to the labour market (Camilleri-Cassar 2009). Another example of ‘reverse bias’ is payment of the child allowance to the mother in Denmark.2