Abstract: This paper employs heterogeneity in institutional shareholder tax characteristics to identify the relation between firm payout policy and tax incentives. Analysis of a panel of firms matched with the tax characteristics of the clients of their institutional shareholders indicates that "dividend-averse" institutions are significantly less likely to hold shares in firms with larger dividend payouts. This relation between the tax preferences of institutional shareholders and firm payout policy may reflect dividend-averse institutions gravitating towards low dividend paying firms or managers adapting their payout policies to the interests of their institutional shareholders. Evidence is provided that both effects are operative. Plausibly exogenous changes in payout policy result in shifting institutional ownership patterns. Similarly, exogenous changes in the tax cost of institutional investors receiving dividends results in changes in firm dividend policy. (C) 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.