Singularly Stupid

For a country that built its reputation on the storied rugged individualist, its laws sure as hell don’t match the rhetoric.

Are single people discriminated against? According to evidence out there, American singles take a financial hit on income taxes, health care costs, social security, and IRA choices to name a few. And it goes without saying that unmarried women take a bigger financial hit due to the wage gap than their single male counterparts.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against marriage. It’s come a long way from being a mere contractual obligation to one of spending your life with, presumably, a love match. But it’s not for everyone. In 2011, the Census Bureau announced that married couples in the United States are in the minority for the first time.

At what point do we view these laws and company policies as archaic? Currently, the laws do not help the majority of Americans succeed financially, so why are they still around? Are we anticipating that the single trend will reverse? Perhaps there is no clear answers, but I think a part is that we all on some level, without question, accept that it’s better to be married than not. Tradition, culture, family, and nostalgia push us to seek coupledom, though more and more, people are cohabiting or living alone.

Arnold and Campbell in their wonderful and jaw dropping article “The High Price of Being Single” crunch the numbers on a hypothetical single women making $40,000 a year for 40 years. She will pay $245,000 in taxes compared to her married sister in the same scenario who will pay $209,000 in taxes! The joint return penalizes singles.

They then take the same hypothetical women making 40K and compare health care costs. The singleton spent $189,600 over 60 years and the married spent $165,600 over the same time. A single woman would fall further behind if she becomes disabled.


Additionally, single people have no death benefit that would go to someone. Singles should have a choice to who their social security benefits go to when they die. It shouldn’t be put back into the general pool.  Why can’t a sibling, niece or nephew, or friend be the beneficiary? Just because someone isn’t married doesn’t mean they don’t have family or caretaker obligations.

And single people have less choice when it comes to  IRA’s, including but not limited to, being unable to list another person on the IRA and being hit with required minimum distributions that married folks can dodge. If a single person has a health issue that requires her to withdraw money early, she will also loose 10% of the withdrawal amount while marrieds do not incur that cost.

The shape of our households has changed and continues to change. We’ve known this for years. Our laws need to keep up with the times. Marriage is no longer the bedrock of American society, and it’s a shame that some will get angry or sad or nostalgic about that statement of fact because we need to get past that emotional response to tackle this structural inequality. Unfortunately, little organizing has occurred around this issue. Part of the reason is that there are many types of singletons: single parents, cohabitators, and unmarried and childfree.

Everyone should agree to end the privileging of marriage. It’s kind of shocking that there isn’t more outrage given that Americans who do marry, do so later in life. That means more time as a single person loosing money, which ultimately mean bringing less economic resources to the marriage.  And even if you are married now, you lost out on money when you were single and who knows, you may be single again someday.

If we can agree that the ‘solution’ is not to get married, that’s a really good start.  There are enough awful unions out there already. Let’s not bribe people into bad relationships thinking that it will solve money problems. It’s not smart and we can do better.




Photo Credit: donbuciak via Compfight cc.

Facebook Twitter Email

Tags: , , , ,

  • Paulina

    This is a great article, thank you! I never thought about the social security or the IRA issues that you bring up… Although I’m not sure that we shouldn’t give some sort of benefits to those in a committed caretaker type of agreement with another person: if I’m committed to taking care of someone, and therefore they are less likely to have to rely upon the greater society for benefits/social help, shouldn’t i get some sort of ‘thank you’ break?