Zywicki on the Two-Income Trap Hypothesis

Josh Wright —  6 August 2007

My colleague Todd Zywicki offers an empirical rebuttal to the Warren-Tyagi “Two Income Trap” hypothesis which asserts that families with two incomes end up more leveraged than families with single incomes and more susceptible to negative economic shocks than otherwise for a number of reasons, including, e.g. counterproductive bidding for housing, child care expenses, etc. The hypothesis is designed, in part, to explain the increase in bankruptcy filings in the US during the 1980s and 90s. After a bit of number crunching, Zywicki concludes that the largest difference between the typical family in 1970 and 2000 is the tax burden not the mortgage expenses:

expenses for health insurance, mortgage, and automobile, have actually declined as a percentage of the household budget. Child care is a new expense. But even this new expenditure is about a quarter less than the increase in taxes. Moreover, unlike new taxes and the child care expenses incurred to pay them, increases in the cost of housing and automobiles are offset by increases in the value of real and personal property as household assets that are acquired in exchange.

Overall, the typical family in the 2000s pays substantially more in taxes than in their mortgage, automobile expenses, and health insurance costs combined. And the growth in the tax obligation between the two periods is substantially greater the growth in mortgage, automobile expenses, and health insurance costs combined.

Interesting stuff.