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It Doesn’t Pay to Be Single


it doesnt pay to be single

Last month, “The Atlantic” released an interesting piece called The High Price of Being Single in America. Since that title might not thoroughly traumatize you as much as it should, I’ll share a quote from the article, “Over a lifetime, unmarried women can pay as much as a million dollars more than their married counterparts for healthcare, taxes, and more.” Although the study originally focused on the effect current laws have on same-sex marriages, it also explored the affects America’s policies have on single men and women. As it turns out, these policies are financially devastating. An excerpt from the article:

One reason these policies exist is to encourage people to get married, because being married was—and still is—considered a social good. Some have suggested that marriage makes people healthier and happier, but critics such as Dr. Bella DePaulo have pointed out that most studies show that, in the long term, there is little to no difference between married and single people in terms of health, happiness, or personal responsibility. Additionally, these studies are often poorly designed, consider data sets that are not representative of the general population, or fail to consider alternative hypotheses—for example, people who are already happy might be more likely to become married, or happiness might come from having close interpersonal relationships, which may or may not include a spouse. Whatever the truth might be about marriage’s effects, we the authors would like to redraw the lines of discussion and argue that policy-makers need to reject policies that take into consideration an individual’s marital status, because such policies are discriminatory.

In total, the authors reviewed the cost of living differences in areas including income taxes, investments, social security, and health care spending. I won’t cover all of those details, because you can read the article yourself; however, while proclaiming that even though they used the most conservative of estimates, the researches still came to the following conclusions:

In each category, the singles paid or lost more than the marrieds. The single woman earning $40,000 paid less than her counterpart earning $80,000, simply because she had less money to start with.

When we calculated how much money our characters gained or lost altogether, our single women did indeed fare worse—much worse—than the married women. Their lifetime cost of being single?

Our lower-earning woman paid $484,368 for being single. Our higher-earning woman paid $1,022,096: more than a million dollars just for being single.

We anticipate that critics will point out that the numbers could be manipulated in any number of ways. At every stage in the process we, too, thought “these sums are just too crazy; surely we must have miscalculated or reasoned wrong.” We have, however, made only the most conservative of estimates and still reached the conclusion that, no matter which way you read the numbers, the final assessment remains the same: Singles get screwed.

The piece focuses on the effects a single versus married life style has on a woman, but I imagine the effects would be similar, but likely not as devastating for a man (statistically speaking, men still make more income per dollar earned in most cities). I guess you can look at this one of two ways: America’s financial policies reward those who choose marriage over a single lifestyle or it punishes those who choose a single lifestyle over marriage. If you’re progressive minded, you might also consider these policies inherently unfair to those who choose a non-traditional lifestyle, since same-sex marriages are currently only recognized at the state level, versus the federal.

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WIM SigDo you think the government should continue to tailor policies that only reward married couples? Do such practices discriminate against single people or people who choose alternative lifestyles? Have such financial considerations ever directly influenced your decision to marry or remain single?


  1. I think the government needs to keep up with the times, in a perfect world everyone would find that one, get married bear heirs and live the traditional lifestyle, however times have changed. I wouldn’t call it discrimation as the intent is primarily to incentivize the family structure not punish the others. I would say the last thing on my mind when getting married would be financial implications but some would say love is love, marriage is business.

  2. The government should not subsidize/promote one lifestyle over another. Most working folks pay taxes and pay bills so why should married folks get an additional benefit from the government?

    That said, it was interesting how much money I saved while married despite having the very same debt (my mortgage for my house, we lived in his house) before and after the marriage.

  3. As was already alluded to, the numbers can be skewed either way, but that’s an argument for another day. As I am mostly old fashioned in my thinking, I personally still believe that marriage is the foundation of a stable overall society. There are inherent benefits in it, and there should be. I don’t knock those who choose to live the single life, or have had singledom forced upon them. Or couples who live together for that matter.

    However, if you generally show me a community that has a higher rate of married households, I’ll show you one that is more stable, and economically viable than a community that is made up of singles. Facts and statistics back this up. So it’s no shame in being single, but there is a benefit in finding the right person to say “I do” with.

  4. It definitely sucks to be Single, financially speaking, but some people will pay that same million quoted above to get out of a marriage or bad relationship. I’ll choose to remain Single, and pay a premium for such a wonderful lifestyle.

  5. Also, the government does not subsidize Married people, per se. Married filing separate has the same tax bracket as someone who files and is Single. So, perhaps what is skewed is the entire notion that the government “forces” a lifestyle. Maybe the government simply wants to process less paperwork so it incentivizes couples to use one form. We can argue perception all day. A Single person with a dependent pays less than a Single person without (based on credits and exemptions). So, whatever….

  6. I wonder if this took into account divorce. Is divorced counted as being single or as a failed marriage? Cause I've seen a lot of financial situations get pretty bad because of their divorces. And I guess there's the whole situation of taking on somebody's debt when you marry them. I don't know, maybe it's cheaper to be married but there are definitely risks involved with both.
    My recent post Nonogram Puzzles

    1. "I guess there's the whole situation of taking on somebody's debt when you marry them."

      Something I hear people gloss over a lot and I get the O_o look when I bring this up as a red flag. There are a few acquaintances I have who although are well put together and generally nice ladies, have horrible credit and debt issues. I don't think I can begin the dialog about marriage when someone is getting their wages garnished or liens placed on properties. Plus, I've worked hard in order to maintain a stellar credit score…risking that for love seems like a bad business move.


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