Despite increasing levels of participation by women in the workforce, a significant gender gap persists. Married women are working more than ever, but their wages lag far behind those of their husbands. In the newly prototypical two-earner family, each spouse devotes an almost equal amount of time to market work, but the wife typically spends twice as many hours as her husband in home production. Despite the supposed “liberation” of women that has transpired over the last several decades, our social models of the family and workplace remain largely unchanged. For example, part-time labor, which would seem an attractive option in a reconceived work–family dynamic, predominantly remains lower paying, less prestigious, and less desirable than full-time labor. More generally, the “new” two-earner family seems largely to have added extra workplace responsibilities to the wife's burdens, while holding most of the husband's activities and the wife's nonmarket production constant. And, while fewer than 10% of all Americans still live in a version of the “traditional” family of some time ago – the working husband and the stay-at-home wife – society has struggled to develop alternative visions of the family.
Tax laws play a role in all of this. A reformulated tax policy could be more sensitive to the character and aspirations of mundane existence; tax laws are well suited to a system of individualized incentives. Yet traditional tax policy often seems stuck in a rut of static, distributive thinking, typically asking who “wins” and who “loses” – that is, who presently pays more dollars out-of-pocket to the fisc – from a putative tax reform. With respect to families, this focus has produced a battle of the “neutralities.”