Income differences among spouses in the District are still significant.

In this post we explore whether spouses have similar income characteristics. To examine this we analyzed DC income tax data for married couples and domestic partners who file a combined separate income tax return. This fling status allows us to compare the incomes of each filer separately and determine whether their incomes are similar.

We examined income differentials among couples/partners by computing the ratio of their respective incomes.  We looked at three levels of income differentials, a 50 percent differential, a 25 percent differential and a 10 percent differential.  For example, a couple where one spouse has income of $50,000 and the other has income of $100,000 would have a 50 percent differential, whereas a couple where one spouse has income of $90,000 and the other $100,000 would have a 10 percent differential.

Here is the data:

Income differences among spouses:1

 Source: Office of Revenue Analysis, DISTRICTMEASURED.COM


  • The lowest income differential is for couples making between $100,000 and $200,000, who account for the majority of married filing combined separately filers. The figures were almost identical for those with aggregate income between $200,000 and $300,000.
    • 61 percent report an income differential of less than 50 percent
    • 36 percent report an income differential of 25 percent or lower.
    • 21 percent report an income differential of 10 percent or lower.
  • As expected, income differentials are largest among couples with high aggregate incomes- above $500,000.
    • Only 28 percent of couples with incomes between $500,000 and $100,000 have an income differential lower than 50 percent.
    • For millionaires, the comparable figure is 16 percent.
  • We were surprised to see that even among millionaires, 9 percent have an income differential lower than 25 percent, and 5 percent report an income differential that is lower than 10 percent.
  • We tested to see whether these results changed for couples who had dependents. The results were very similar for all income ranges except the lowest. This suggests that for low income couples the presence of a dependent could result in one of the spouses taking on a part-time job to take care of dependents. Conclusions regarding whether a spouse leaves the workforce altogether in the presence of a dependent cannot be drawn from this data. (See note in data section below)
  • The only significant difference from the results shown in the table above occurred when we limited the results to seniors. We found that only 44 percent of seniors reported an income differential lower than 50 percent.
  • The tax data does not provide information on the gender of the spouses. It merely identifies a primary and secondary filer. For the majority of filers, 63 percent, the primary filer had a higher income than the secondary filer.

Overall the data confirms that there are still significant income differences among spouses. About 50 percent of all couples report an income differential greater than 50 percent. The differential is less pronounced for spouses with aggregate income between $100,000 and $350,000. Still almost 40 percent of spouses in this income range report an income differential of more than 50 percent.

What exactly is the data?

Data is from the 2012 DC personal income tax filings and refers to taxable income for married and domestic partners filing combined separate.  The income tax data has the benefit of including more filers than sample data from the American Community Survey which includes only about 8,000 overall households for all filing types.  There are however some important limitations to the tax data. The analysis excludes married filers who file taxes jointly. These filers tend to be concentrated among lower-income married couples or couples where only one individual has income. Because couples who file jointly do not report their incomes separately we cannot compute their income differential.  In the case of one-earner couples, the numbers shown in the table above would understate the income differential particularly for the lowest income range.

Homeownership in the District

In 2014, according to data compiled by the Federal Housing Finance Agency on home purchase prices, homes in the District sold for over three times the prices they commanded in 2001.  During that time, home prices in the U.S. also increased, but not nearly as fast—2014 prices were 45 percent greater than 2001 prices.  The great recession did dampen prices in the District (shaded in the graphs below), but not enough to undo the rapid gains in early 2000s and since the end of the recession, rapid price increases once again became the norm.image003

So how did all this affect homeownership?  In 2014, 44 percent of District residents lived in homes they owned—that is down 4 percentage points from 2001 and down five percentage points from 2007 (right before the great recession) when ownership rates reached 49 percent. As a relative decline, this is about 10 percent (5 out of 49).  Homeownership rates declined in the US too, but not as rapidly.  Ownership rates declined by 4 percentage points since the beginning of the great recession from 71 percent to 67 percent, but given that ownership rates in the nation were much higher to begin with, this is a relative decline of 6 percent.


We have written many times on this blog about the changing demographics and gentrification in the District (see here, here and here).  Homeownership lies at the heart of these issues.  So we checked: how did home ownership change among different income groups?  We divide the District’s resident population into three groups: low-income, which includes all households with incomes in the bottom 25 percent of the income distribution in 2014, high-income, which include households in the top 25 percent of the distribution, and middle-income, which is all the households in between. We look at these groups since 2001, adjusting income thresholds for inflation.  This way, we are comparing similar groups based on today’s demographics.

In 2014, 19 percent of households who fall in the bottom 25 percent of the income distribution owned their homes.  If we looked at the same income group in 2001, we would have seen that 31 percent of them owned their homes.  That is a relative decline of 40 percent.  Homeownership among the middle-income groups increased through the 2000s, only to go back to their 2001 levels in 2014, at 43 percent.  Homeownership among high income residents also lost ground, but only slightly, going down from 77 percent to 72 percent.image007

There are many issues at play here: increasing prices, transient population, limited growth in housing stock, demographic change (read: more singles who are less likely to own across all income groups and overall growth in population).  But what is clear is that the income composition of homeownership is changing, with ownership of housing shifting towards middle and high income residents.

What exactly is this data?  The home price data is the quarterly index of home prices based on estimated purchase price.  Homeownership and income data are extracts from the Current Population Survey data maintained by Miriam King, Steven Ruggles, J. Trent Alexander, Sarah Flood, Katie Genadek, Matthew B. Schroeder, Brandon Trampe, and Rebecca Vick. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series, Current Population Survey: Version 3.0. [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010.