For married couples that file taxes jointly, an IRS 1040 form does not say whose name should come first. As a result, the order should be random.
It is not.
U.S. Tax Forms
In the vast majority of 1040 forms, the man’s name comes first for married couples. From there, researchers suggest a correlation between name order and who earns more. They also concluded that when the husband’s name is first, it is more likely that the couple tends toward conservative politics and more religion.
With earnings from millions of tax returns, they had the data to confirm their conclusions. They could see that most often, husbands brought home a bigger paycheck. Based on time, though, there has been a change. Moving from men’s names being first 97.3% of the time in 1996 to 88.1% in 2020, the downward trend told us that during the past 24 years, women started earning more. Having more utility outside the home brought them more household power.
Next, taking somewhat of a leap, they compared tax form data to the cultural proclivities of individual states. Showing that those who identified as highly religious, conservative politically, and opposed to abortion had the most male first names on tax forms, they reported that 90.7% of the returns from Iowa had the male first while for Washington D.C., it was 79.7%. In addition, looking at age, they found that older couples and older husbands tended toward naming the man first.
And finally, confirming the message from the individuals that completed their own tax forms, researchers added that when a tax preparer made the name order decision, the gender bias was less evident.
Through 2019 Pew Research that surveyed 38,426 respondents in 34 countries, we can take a second look at the gender pay gap..
Perpetuating gender bias, Pew reports that many of us expect men to earn more:
Our Bottom Line: Expectation Bias
At this point, a behavioral economist could suggest that we have a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having men’s names listed first makes us expect them to be there. We can call it an expectation bias.
My sources and more: It is always nice when three disparate reports converge as they did today. This NBER research on gender bias and tax filings related to this Pew Report as did this article from American University. Somewhat similar, econlife also looked at expectation and gender bias for female CEOs.