Measuring Top Incomes Using Tax Record Data: A Cautionary Tale from Australia

Melbourne Institute Working Paper No. 24/13

Date: June 2013

Author(s):

Richard V. Burkhauser
Markus H. Hahn
Roger Wilkins

Abstract

Atkinson, Piketty, and Saez (2011) survey an important new literature using income tax-based data to measure the share of income held by top income groups. But changes in tax legislation that expand the tax base to include income sources (e.g. capital gains, dividends, etc.) disproportionately held by these groups will conflate such an expansion with an increase in the share of income they hold. We provide a cautionary tale from Australia of how comprehensive tax reform legislation in 1985 substantially altered Australian top income series, especially those that do not separate taxable realized capital gains from other taxable income.

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  • Top incomes, income inequality, personal income, tax-based data