Does income tax influence the motivation to work? We propose that the degree of effort exertion in the presence of income tax depends on people's attitudes toward two key components of taxation: redistribution and government intervention. For people favorable toward both, working while taxed is aligned with personal identity and may actually enhance motivation. All others, however, may find taxes demotivating. In two incentive-compatible labor experiments, framing wages as subject to an income tax significantly increased productivity among people chronically favorable toward both redistribution and government intervention. For everyone else, taxes did not reliably influence productivity. An objectively equivalent intervention that did not redistribute a portion of participants' wages (framed as a wage “match” rather than a “tax”) did not motivate anyone to work harder. Our findings suggest that the net effect of income tax on productivity partly depends on the distribution of attitudes toward redistribution and government intervention.

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ERIM Top-Core Articles
Journal of Behavioral Decision Making
Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Erasmus University

Rick, S., Paolacci, G., & Burson, K. (2018). Income tax and the motivation to work. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 31(5), 619–631. doi:10.1002/bdm.2078