January 2017

Household Incomes in Tax Data: Using Addresses to Move from Tax Unit to Household Income Distributions

Jeff Larrimore, Jacob Mortenson, and David Splinter


Tax return data are increasingly the standard for tracking income statistics in the United States. However, these data have traditionally been limited by their inability to capture non-filers and to identify members of separate tax units living in the same household. We overcome these obstacles and create household records directly in the tax data using mailing address information included on tax forms. We then present the first set of tax-based household income and inequality measures for the entire income distribution. When comparing household income inequality results in the tax data to those using the March CPS, we confirm previous findings that the March CPS understates the inequality of household income. However, we also find that the previous approach of using tax units in the IRS data to proxy for households leads to an overstatement of household income inequality. Finally, using households in the IRS tax records, we illustrate how focusing on tax units rather than households alters the observed distribution of tax programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Accessible materials (.zip)

Keywords: EITC, Household Income, IRS Data, Income Inequality, Tax Unit Income

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17016/FEDS.2017.002

PDF: Full Paper

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Last Update: January 09, 2020