Unmarried? In THIS Economy? 7 Ways Our Society Financially Punishes Single People

Unmarried? In THIS Economy? 7 Ways Our Society Financially Punishes Single People

Structural discrimination against single people is the latest topic chosen by our Patreon donors. It is sooooo like them to throw research-heavy bummers my way. Thanks a lot, you beneficent bastards!

I used to think that the biggest financial turning point in my life was when I stopped being self-employed (read “chronically underemployed”) and got a Big Girl Job™ with a steady paycheck and health benefits. It was transformational. I felt suddenly, magically middle class. Like the fairy godmother turned down the heat on her princess-making magic wand to something just as good, but slightly less flashy.

Single people when they finally feel middle class.

But now, I question if that was really my greatest turning point. Because around the same time, I started dating a friend of mine. Financial pressures pushed us to commit to moving in together almost immediately. In the jumble of first/last/security payments on a new apartment and a flurry of Craigslist secondhand furniture purchases, it took a while to feel any financial benefits to partnership.

I see more clearly now how much dual incomes and shared expenses contributed to our long-term stability, to a magnitude no job could ever touch.

At the structural level, our economy financially punishes single people. I think it often rises to the level of discrimination. But even when it doesn’t, single people statistically have less financial security, and thus will feel “normal” economic strains faster than partnered people.

I’m striving with all my being to discuss this topic without making an “all the single ladies” joke. 2008 was four hundred years ago, and I’m clinging to cultural relevancy with only my fingertips.

1. We financially punish single people by paying them less

When researchers charted the income of married and unmarried working people, they found a huge outlier in married men.

Clearly, marital status has a substantial impact on earning potential. Married people out-earned their single counterparts across every demographic. They get more job interviews and higher initial offers as well. The comedically large gap between white married men and everyone else is particularly striking. They earn 33% more than their unmarried peers. But I was surprised to see that married black men earned the #2 spot, as their wages have been on-par with white women in this century.

Granted, these numbers likely don’t imply causation. Like, some manager isn’t about to hire someone for $16/hour, then ups it to $20/hour just because they spotted a wedding band. Marriage correlates to other important factors like educational attainment.

But cultural factors must play a role, too. We have a ton of cultural baggage around married couples and the stereotype of men as providers. In living memory, we had whole sitcoms built on the premise that men needed wives to get promotions. Married men work more hours than single men—yet another instance of workplaces benefiting from the anxieties created by outdated gendered cultural norms, I suspect. Anecdotally, I have a friend who was told she was passed up for a promotion in favor of a married man because “he has a family to support.” And yes, this was a young woman, not Nana reminiscing about the Mad Men days!

2. We financially punish single people by taxing them more than married people

Fun fact: joint tax filings are a recent invention. Until 1948, everyone used to pay individual income tax, regardless of their relationship status. But the IRS was worried high-earning men would cheat taxes by diverting some of their income to their wives, lowering their overall tax brackets. So they created the joint marriage option.

This gave married couples a fantastic break, but did nothing whatsoever for single people. At the time, 78% of American adults were married. Being single was broadly considered a temporary life stage. So nobody really complained.

The so-called marriage tax bonus has evolved a lot since then. Some married couples may actually end up paying more, a marriage tax penalty—but that’s rarer. Overall, the tax code is still designed to offer better tax breaks to married people.

Take the Earned Income Tax Credit, for example. To get this tax credit, a single person’s adjusted gross income cannot exceed $15,820. If the system were unbiased toward single people, the ceiling for a couple would logically be double that at $31,640. But it’s not. It’s $21,710. That’s an improvement of almost ten grand!

A massive discount—just for being married.

3. We financially punish single people by making it harder to save for retirement and transfer inherited wealth

Institutionalized discrimination against single people continues into retirement and end-of-life planning.

Spousal IRAs make it possible for couples to support each other’s retirement goals. Single people cannot do the same. No matter how close or interdependent they are with an unrelated adult, they cannot help each other save for retirement in a tax-advantaged way unless they’re married.

Spouses are also the only ones able to withdraw money from an IRA to pay qualified medical or education expenses without the usual early deduction penalty.

While it’s never ideal to withdraw money from an IRA early, single people overburdened by unplanned medical expenses will lose 10 percent of the withdrawal amount even if the expenses are high. In other words, single people are penalized when they make the same choices as their married counterparts.

The High Price of Being Single in America, The Atlantic

4. We financially punish single people by giving them fewer options to collect and bequeath Social Security benefits

Picture me as an old-school 1950s housewife. Like, vacuuming in a Peter Pan collar with a full face of makeup.

Because I was too busy making an endless stream of pineapple upside-down cakes, I never held a job that paid Social Security taxes. Yet I’d still be eligible to collect a solid chunk of money in retirement. How?

Why, through my husband! He’s spent years selling cigarettes to traveling vacuum cleaners or whatever! I can collect half of his Social Security benefits as a spousal benefit. Even if we get divorced, I could still collect if our marriage lasted at least ten years! Alternatively, if he died first, I could inherit his account as a survivor’s benefit.

Here’s the thing: a spouse is the ONLY person who is eligible to collect that benefit in full. Children and parents can also claim survivor’s benefits—but never the full 100%. Depending on circumstances, they would only get between 75 and 82%.

Single people cannot designate anyone else as a beneficiary of their social security benefit. These potentially life-changing inheritances are reserved for marrieds only. Because of reasons.

Single people re: singlism.

5. We financially punish single people by refusing to recognize the validity of important non-spousal relationships

In addition to these, there are myriad other programs, benefits, and protections that are discriminatorily only offered to married people. There are too many to name, but I’ll give you one example.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), qualified employees may take time off from their jobs to care for a child, parent, or spouse. But a spouse is the only non-family relationship deemed legitimate by this (necessary and important) legislation. Unmarried people cannot take time off to care for a non-relative, no matter how close or interdependent they are with that person.

And if you’re the one in need of care, but you’re single, you’d better hope your parents are alive and willing. Or that you have a really generous adult child kicking around out there. Otherwise, just lay down on the floor and wait for death!

6. We financially punish single people by making them pay more for healthcare

If you’re playing Bitches Get Riches bingo, you may now mark off the “rail ineffectually against the American healthcare system” square.

Thank you for playing Bitches Get Riches outrage bingo.

There are two primary reasons that single people spend more money than married people on healthcare. First, married couples double their choices for coverage because they can choose the best option between two employer-sponsored healthcare plans. So they’re less likely to overpay—either in premiums or deductibles—because they have more opportunities to choose the plan that best suits them.

Secondly, women pay substantially more for healthcare than men. Research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that single women spend 8% of their income on healthcare, and heterosexual married couples spend 7%. Compare that with single men, who spend only 4%.

Sorry, husbandos, for dragging you down. We’ll see ourselves out.

7. We financially punish single people by acting too slowly on financial reforms that would benefit everyone

Guys, we have SO many great ideas for economic reforms.

What if we raised the minimum wage? Ooooh, or skip that and go straight to universal basic income?!

Mandatory pay transparency would be rad… but I’d settle for aggressive taxation of billionaires. Or even just capping the total number of investment properties one person can own.

Is universal healthcare on the table? Or a comprehensive plan to fight climate change? If that’s too much, could we just calm inflation down a little? Or ban single-use plastics?

Or SOMETHING?!

It’s beyond frustrating to see so many interesting, ambitious ideas wasted. It feels like the more popular an idea is, the more likely it is to die a quiet death after six years “in committee.” I would broadly characterize Americans as acclimated to gridlock, and apathetic not by nature, but by justifiable cynicism.

When we fail to act on good ideas, people suffer. The first to suffer are those with the smallest margin between stability and poverty. And 95.3% of the people living below the federal poverty line are single. 

I know people who’ve called in sick because they couldn’t afford to put gas in their car to drive to work. I know people who’ve stayed in abusive relationships because rent in even the most modest apartment is unaffordable on their salary alone.

These problems aren’t unique to single people, of course. But when the cost of living goes up, single people do not have the flexibility of two incomes with which to adjust. They just fall further behind.

Why discrimination against single people is illegal, unethical, and just generally whack

It’s discrimination based on marital status

In about half of all states, marital or familial status discrimination is illegal. Y’all can probably guess which half, lmao. Depending on the state, that may include situations involving employment, housing, insurance, or all of the above.

Ideally, these laws protect married couples, unmarried couples, single people, and total family configuration. For example, a boss can’t legally refuse to hire a young married woman because he’s worried she’ll go on maternity leave in the near future. (Although they still do.) And a landlord can’t refuse to rent to a young single man, or a family with children, because they have preconceived notions about what they’ll be like as tenants. But every state is different, and has interpreted these laws differently, so YMMV.

It’s discrimination based on sexual orientation

Thanks to decades of tireless activism, federal law has stronger protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. And sexual orientation encompasses so much more than just being gay or lesbian. That’s the vanilla and chocolate of the queer world. Fine flavors, to be sure—but there are so many more!

Asexual people exist. Aromantic people exist. Polyamorous people exist. JFC, not everybody is heterosexual and monogamously partnered, Janet.

We have codified being single as a punishment for disabled people

Many, many disabled people have no choice but to stay single, despite being happily committed to a partner. It’s because we baked shame, skepticism, ableism, and eugenics into the fabric of our laws. It’s disgusting and shameful.

There is no marriage equality until disabled people can marry without losing their government assistance. And that will never happen so long as we make singledom into a kind of punishment.

Partnership is no longer the default

Today, far fewer people are choosing to marry. Half of all American adults are single. Even people who want to get married are spending much more time unmarried. The median age of first marriages is creeping dangerously close to 30 years old, the traditional cutoff point for official spinsterhood.

Millennials—ever the murderers—have killed both marriage AND divorce. (Has anyone started a satirical Murderpedia entry for Millennials yet? ‘Cuz we deserve one. We are prolific.) America isn’t alone. Most post-industrial countries are following the same trend. It makes no sense for this one relationship model to be so formally entrenched.

Temporary life statuses still deserve dignity and protection

I have no time for people who think the minimum wage shouldn’t be a living wage because “those are supposed to be temporary jobs!” Cool take, bro. Until I get a “better” job, I’ll just stop needing things like food and shelter!

I think the same is true here. Yeah, not every single person will stay single. But everyone deserves social respect and fair protections under the law, all of the time.

Childrearing deserves financial incentives unconnected to relationship statuses

Although I am committed to being childfree, I am an enthusiastic supporter of parents. The continuation of the species is difficult work, and I sure as shit don’t wanna do it. As a taxpayer, I’m happy to subsidize it. Incentives like the Child Tax Credit were a great idea. BRING BACK THE CHILD TAX CREDIT, YOU NUMBNUTS!

If the number of bastard royal children I had to learn about in AP Euro is any indication, the connection between marriage and childrearing was never perfect. Today, 40% of children are born to unmarried people. The archaic, patriarchal, and religiously rooted idea that kids equal marriage stinks like old milk.

Capitalism is eating feminism’s lunch, and I’m over it

You know what grinds my gears? Seeing the hard-won gains made by feminists coopted by capitalism.

Second-wave feminists fought for the right to work outside the home as a means to irrevocable personal autonomy. They wanted to get their own credit cards and work their own jobs and divorce their shitty spouses because it gave them the means to live independently.

They did not do that work so that women could become co-breadwinners in tandem with a partner, trapped together forever in a world that’s become so expensive that neither can meaningfully pursue happiness alone. It emphatically was not the point.

We’re writing more on this topic soon—and we want to hear from YOU

With all this negative information, what’s the silver lining? How do single people survive and thrive in a world that isn’t designed for them?

We’re working on another article in the near future that will address exactly that. See, this research has soured us on the idea that spouses are the only potential sources of financial synergy in your life. And we see reason to hope.

The basic necessities of life are more expensive now than at any point in recent history. Despite that, half of all Americans are unpartnered. That means people are out there, making it work. And we want to share their stories.

We want to hear from you. Who have you shared financial resources with other than a romantic partner? And how did that sharing go? Do you share childcare with a neighbor? Throw gas money at a coworker for rides? Trade chores with your roommate? Pay rent to your parents? Did you buy a house with your best friend? Please tell us about it in the comments below! The more unconventional, the better!

And thanks again to our Patreon donors for choosing this topic. None of them are single, though… because I love them so much, I’m dating them all. If you want to help us choose future topics and pay us a fair wage for all this research and writing, head on over to our Patreon.

37 thoughts to “Unmarried? In THIS Economy? 7 Ways Our Society Financially Punishes Single People”

  1. I’ve often thought of our affordable housing crisis from this lens, too. If more of us are staying single, even if just for longer than historical patterns, and most of us desire a place of our own, doesn’t that mean we’re consuming more housing/apartments than the historical base model (H&W).
    I’ve been single my whole life, and a homeowner of a 2br townhouse for 16+ years. No roommates except for a couple summer interns and the occasional visit from family. This place should easily be housing 3-4 hoomans, if I wasn’t the owner occupant with a terminal case of the Single Pringles. And yes, I pay more than necessary for not having a roommate, just like I do on cruise ships where they charge mean “solo supplement” for having the whole bed/room to myself.

  2. Though this story involves me taking advantage of a partnership as well, it involves my sister who is single:

    1) My fiance and I are buying a condo but it is very expensive.
    2) My sister is a social worker & also getting her Master’s in Social Work because she is giving and wonderful but will not make significant money anytime soon.
    3) We are going to live with her in our new condo and let her pay under-market rent. She does have to live with some soon-to-be newlyweds, so not sure who gets the better deal.

  3. My wife and I provided financial support to my younger sibling while they were in college and cosigned their lease. They were struggling to make ends meet and have a safe place to live despite working close to full time while also being a full
    time student. We ended up getting some of that money back after my sibling retroactively qualified for a grant that covered tuition and other expenses. It does feel a little bit ironic though that literally keeping my sibling from being homeless has played a small role in us not being able to afford our own home yet. It’s also always made me angry that systemically the fact that my sibling and I are close and support each other counts for nothing when it comes to healthcare, aid programs, etc, etc.

  4. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for acknowledging the existence of Ace and/or Aro people in regards to this issue. I’m both, and being a part of a demographic that may be less likely to benefit from dual incomes makes things so much harder. It makes me scared for my future — will I as a single person ever be paid enough to afford to buy a home? Or even live alone in an apartment? What will happen to me when I reach the age where children or a spouse would traditionally step in to help care for me? Society automatically assumes everyone will partner off eventually so these questions don’t even get asked.

    1. I’m also aro and I worry about this constantly. What about when I’m elderly and don’t have children to support me? Like on top of everything else, we’ve basically made it so elder care isn’t available if you don’t have children to do it and it’s so expensive that even niblings probably couldn’t afford to help you when they already need to worry about their parents. I’m apartment hunting right now and I can’t help but be frustrated when a one bedroom for myself is almost the same price as a two bedroom if I have someone to share it with–and I can’t even afford the one bedroom alone!

      1. I’m not aromantic, but I am a childfree married person. And when people challenge my childfreedom the first thing they ask is “But who will look after you when you’re old?” Which, besides the cost, is just like… children don’t ASK to be born! They don’t ASK for the burden of elder care. Why do we assume it’s their responsibility? I have a robust retirement plan so I can afford to take care of myself and not be a burden on my niblings. Parents should do the same.

  5. Ohhhh this is such a real issue for me right now. Housing is so expensive where I am and just adding another person would make the living spaces available to much more affordable/safe/clean/comfortable, etc. It’s disgusting. My income is absolute dirt already working for a nonprofit, but the difference between pre-tax income and afterward is abysmal.

  6. I’m 33, and I have a group of 6 friends all in their late-20s who have lived together for the last 6 years in rental houses and apartments (with, ofc, awful parasites for landlords). They all really enjoy living together, in a way that I was always taught was impossible. I was taught, in my 20s, that living with other adults was just a “temporary, regrettable” situation, right? Like, that step you make before you “get a significant other and get married” or whatever. And if you live with friends, you’re gonna end up hating them, blahblah… But these friends have really enjoyed living together, and they’ve gotten to share the burden of running a household together (instead of my single-living, two-job-holding ass that has to do all the cleaning, shopping, and cooking herself). It’s really opened my eyes as to what’s possible. And it’s also made me angry that so much of why I want an S.O. is for financial and work-burden reasons, not romantic ones. (how many times I’ve said “jezuz, please give me someone to pick up some milk on the way home… or do the dishes just once…”) I think you might’ve missed that in your article, actually. Not just being single, but *living* on your own can be a huge drain of energy and money.

    Recently, one of the friends in the group started making a ton of money in their creative business and they bought a house! For everyone! They’re all moving in at the end of the summer and I’m really excited for them.

    1. I feel this heavily, I’m in my late 20s and have always lived alone. While I typically enjoy it, I do love the idea of sharing the responsibilities of my domestic life with others (the milk prayer is familiar), and the built in friend group/community that comes with having good roommates.

      I love the idea of non-married adults taking on home ownership together–as long as the housing market is such a nightmare, I anticipate more and more people will go that route. I also wouldn’t be surprised if landlords and home sellers favor married couples, based on preconceived notions that their relationships (and rant/mortgage payments) will be more ‘stable’….

    2. You’ve hit the nail on the head. Pre-Covid my younger sibling lived in a house with my husband & I for 2 years. I am a SAHM, and life was SO MUCH EASIER for both my husband AND sibling to have a designated homemaker. Someone who not only cooked dinner from scratch but also packed leftovers for their lunches, did the vast majority of the housework, was at home to receive signature-required packages, supervised any contractors/workmen, took care of sick kids & pediatrician visits, and yes – bought the milk. So I think it’s fair to say that Point #1 in this article is partially just a reflection of the fact that white men are the most likely to have this stay-at-home spouse advantage.

      And yeah, intentional co-housing (even without a designated homemaker) rocks! All of my siblings and several of my peers have done similar arrangements for at least a year or two, and a few have continued it by choice for much longer.

  7. I pay rent to my mother AND I live with my long time nesting partner to make it work in the expensive city we live in. All three of us work part time jobs because none of us have the capacity to work full time (disabities age health and family care responsibilities etc).
    The worst thing is health care. None of us have any health care and none of us are qualified for health care from our jobs or from the government.
    Housing is the easy part because we live in a 4th generation family home (gotta love the privilege of inherited wealth) but it’s also the reason we don’t qualify for assistance on anything else because our “assets” are too high. The fact that I have a retirement account I contribute too also makes my assets too high? I guess since my father died and we got his life insurance that means we should never need assistance? I make zilch for money to where I should be considered under the federal poverty line but the assets make it impossible.

    It’s pretty weird and since I’m in the midst of being diagnosed for disabilities I don’t have access to disability assistance when it comes to all the confusing paperwork that’s impossible on my own to do. So in a lot of ways I’m stuck in a paradox between being upper middle class in fixed assets and below poverty in liquid assets. Yay.

  8. This is petty and anecdotal, and yet it burns me enough that I’ll mention it My parents are now long gone, but it still annoys me to know they paid a small fortune to celebrate my 2 sisters’ marriages, but as a long term single I never ever saw an equivalent of that money for my own goals or achievements. In my family it was understood only marriages (and births or baptisms) deserve that kind of money. Not all families are like mine (I hope) and of course this isn’t something the government should legislate, but it reflects our society’s multifaceted disregard for singles.

    1. Omg yes. Gifts of money are bestowed for graduations, but after that it’s the traditional life milestones–you get presents for marriage and babies/baptisms, MAYBE home ownership. I’ve kind of made peace with the marriage aspect–my family does big weddings, i’m buying a present in exchange for a lit party with an open bar–but I still complain privately about no one subsidizing my life choices as an unmarried person.

  9. I mean this is kind of the boring nonconventional answer, but as a single lady TM the only way I was able to afford to buy a house was to make a lot of concessions. I switched careers to something I hate but pays better, instead of spending that additional salary on something like my first vacation in ten years, I socked it away. Because it’s just me it had to go to emergencies twice before I built up enough for 3% down which was fall of last year when the housing market really fucking exploded. I then got priced out of the market in my city and had to relocate to whole other city and state to be able to afford a place. And I’m almost 40. Owning a home was really important to me but man it’s taken everything I’ve got for a long time. And I see my partnered friends trading up on their houses or buying vacation homes. Also, I have two really close married friends and one single friend. Only one friend got me a housewarming present… guess which one.

    1. Oooh I feel this. I’m in my late twenties. I’ve planning on advancing my career more aggressively because life is just too expensive, including changing fields. I’ve lived in the college town where I graduated for many years now because I can’t afford to move to any city I’ve wanted to live in. I want to own a home but honestly it’s hard to picture with to many unknowns and how expensive it is.

      Also… the marrieds not getting you a present? So obnoxious. It baffles me how we reward people’s life choices like marriage and child bearing all the time in very tangible ways, as a matter of etiquette, but if you’re single no one feels the need to subsidize your life choices. For christs sake, home ownership is expensive, your married friends couldn’t use their combined income to get you a blender or something? I’m sorry to hear that.

      1. It’s hard! Just make sure new career isn’t crazy stressful. I shot a little too far with this most recent career change and am looking to take a slight step back into something a little easier. Re: the home – I didn’t realize it but I really shot myself in the foot on waiting until I thought I could afford to buy. Not to downplay the current housing crisis at all because it’s bananas – but, I could have bought like seven years ago in my HCOL city when my income was lower because then I qualified for a ton of assistance programs that my higher salary has now priced me out of. That might be something to look into? There are usually ones for your state and city/county and a lot will cover your down payment.

        Ugh yeah – I think it’s the thing where singles realize how hard it is for each other and marrieds maybe just take that community or support for granted. The friend I am the saltiest about, I’ve gotten her two wedding presents for each marriage and a baby shower present. I got nothing when I finished grad school or for the house.

        Like you said above – I’ve also almost always lived alone because I prefer it to roommates. But when I get older I’d really love to do a Golden Girls live in the apartments next to each other situation with my single friends.

        1. Good luck on striking the sweet spot with your career, and thanks for the tip re home buying assistance–definitely something I could end up looking into.

          TWO marriages?? There’s nothing wrong with leaving a marriage that doesn’t work out, but seriously you are far nicer than I would have been; I would’ve said you already got a wedding present out of me. Graduate school is a huge achievement, the fact that no one got you anything really fries my bacon. I will say this: my family values education, I suspect any completion of graduate school would be met with at least a grandmotherly check. Peoples’ priorities can be so old fashioned–I might send out invites to a housewarming party when you live your Golden Girls fantasy, with a not so subtle reminder that gifts aren’t necessary but they are deeply appreciated.

  10. Thanks for this article and for validating the difficulty of these challenges. I’ve been single for 4 years, going from DINK to SINK haha. It’s rough when it comes to saving, retiring, health expenses, etc., especially as a self-employed woman.

  11. Love this article!

    But in case others are reading and thinking the same: I got totally confused on one part as I think your Earned Income Tax Credit example in #2 is actually evidence against your argument. At a $15,820 maximum cutoff to claim the EITC when single with no dependents, that means you get the tax credit if one person lives on up to $15,820. At a $21,710 maximum cutoff for married filing joint with no dependents, you can only get the tax person if each person is living on up to $10,855 once you split it between them. If they were each making the same $15k as the single person then they would *not* qualify for the same tax credit the single person does, so this is an example of where single earners have a more generous tax credit cutoff than married folks.

    1. Echoing what Caroline says, the EITC facts need to be double-checked!

      Upon getting married, the big tax benefit to my household was the standard deduction for filing jointly, because my husband is in school making no income. It reduced our marginal tax rate and we were able to roll over a Roth IRA at a low tax bracket.

      When he returns to work, we will still benefit from the joint deduction, only because he makes 3x my salary. The tax structure favors one spouse making a higher wage or one spouse staying home with kids.

    2. Soon-to-be-CPA here, and Caroline and Kayla are correct. 🙂 That’s technically the “marriage penalty” with that example. For the record, it’s one of the very few examples of the “marriage penalty” — as you’ve noted in this article, a “single penalty” is WAY more common.

  12. The FMLA point hit a little close to home.

    My aunt, who was unmarried and didn’t have kids, got diagnosed with terminal cancer in her 40s. She was financially well off after years in a corporate job, had a good relationship with her employer who apparently kept her on the payroll up until she died so she could keep her health insurance, and most importantly came from a large-ish family that took care of her. Her brother (my uncle) and 4 sisters (my mom and aunts) took turns taking her to chemo appointments and staying with her. I’m pretty sure my grandparents were involved to an extent as well. She spent the last month or so of her life living in one of my aunts’ living room, on a hospital bed my dad supplied from his job. Just the fact her family was financially stable enough to have spacious houses to live in, PTO, or financial situations where they didn’t need to work, put our family in a much stronger position to help than many people can manage. I don’t think any of her siblings tried to get FMLA to take care of her because between the five+ of them they didn’t really need to? Her decline and death was horrible and painful, but it would’ve been so much worse without the resources we had as a family.

    It’s bizarre to me that the government also doesn’t really validate sibling relationships either–you literally grow up with these people, but I guess your siblings are supposed to have their own spouses & children that are supposed to be responsible for them?? I don’t really plan on getting married, I have two younger sisters, and we all feel deeply responsible for each other.

    1. The description of FMLA in the article leaves out that you can take FMLA for *yourself*, but yes for someone else to take FMLA to take care of you they would need to be your spouse, parent or child.

  13. Thank you for this article. As some others have commented, I feel like a big part of the burden of singledom is having to do everything around the house myself—all the chores, all the cooking, etc. It doesn’t leave me much free time. At some point I’d like to find a friend/roommate who could split chores and expenses with me. I imagine I’d then have more time to pursue a side income.

    I work in a nonprofit and have a salary under $40k. When I was house-hunting, the only reason I could afford a down payment was that I lived with my parents for the first few years after college. It wasn’t great for my social life or mental health, but the alternative (renting and trying to save any money at the same time) was not feasible.

    Once I started house-hunting, I had trouble finding something small enough and affordable enough because most of the housing market is not aimed at single people—the house sizes are meant for families. Basically the only thing small enough and affordable enough for me was a condo. There were no houses in the area that fit my needs, which was a bit sad because I had wanted a yard for gardening.

    When I did buy my condo, everyone called it my “starter home” with the assumption that I would soon get married and move on to a “real” house, even though I’ve been single the majority of my adult life, identify as ace, and intend to live here for many years to come. I found this mindset from people frustrating, like they couldn’t see my current life as legitimate and fulfilling, only a stepping stone to traditional monogamy later.

    Money is often tight. I definitely save by paying a mortgage instead of rent, but still, I often visit my parents for free meals, and I never go out to eat. It’s the only way I can keep within my grocery budget. My dad also provides a lot of free labor when I need help fixing something around the house. In return, I do things for them for free, like running errands or weeding in their yard.

  14. Not my own story, but I have friends making it work. Four friends renting a house: cheaper, less lonely, more parking & space & yard, fewer kitchens to clean up. They share the common spaces because no one needs the kitchen or living room 100% of the time. Two fridges definitely helps, though. Another set of three friends bought a house together.

    Some friends and I were considering co-buying a small apartment complex together and “renting” to ourselves so each of us had an apartment (or shared with a partner/friend).

    Honestly, I can’t imagine buying my own place as a single person. I’d be so lonely. I’d much rather live with a group of friends-family. We need to have our own dedicated space, and owning instead of renting would help our bank accounts, but a whole house, or even large apartment, with just me and the cat? I’d go bonkers within a month.

  15. As a single female in Asia, I get the condescending “life is so much easier for you” remark every time. But is it, really? Not only is it financially harder for us – there’s no fallback/plan B if we lose our jobs, groceries are in large, family sizes, we can’t always split rent and more, indeed, we are taxed more. That said, single living has taught me how to file my own taxes, do my own budget, and plan for retirement. Thankful for the skills I was forced to learn.
    Thanks for writing about this often-ignored subject. The single tax exists and it’s real!

  16. I’m probably in the minority but I love being single. I can count on one hand the number of relationships I’ve witnessed in my life that I’ve truly been jealous of. I’ll take the risk of the stock market over a guy any day! That said, there are some financial downsides as you have documented here. Income is probably the most significant (although I must point out that there is no guarantee of two incomes in a marriage–I’ve known a lot of professional women whose husbands couldn’t keep a job and seemed very content to let their wife be the sole earner in the family).

    Knowing I could only truly rely on myself, in my early 30s, I took a job in government: it offered more stability, good benefits and a pension (and I’ll still qualify for social security). Income-wise, I charted a career path to a higher-paying position. The higher salary lets me max out my retirement while still paying my bills and as an added benefit, it will result in a higher pension payout. But the best thing about finances and being single is that my money stays where I put it. I get to make the investment decisions, and the only debt I’m responsible for is my debt. The emotional labor burden is real but again, being married doesn’t necessarily mean the emotional labor is split.

    As for sharing, I’m the one is helping out my married sister and her kids, not the other way around.

  17. Wow this article was so spot on. Agree on all of it, our system just does not support single people.

    Now that I think about FMLA, tax filing status, retirement accounts, etc I can’t see why single people have to be excluded from the benefits of all of that. Maybe it’s harder to regulate if there’s not a marriage certificate behind it? I don’t know. This needs to change.

    I think it was the movie about RBG that came out a few years ago, she met with a man from Denver about him being denied caregiver rights because he was a man? May the progress we’ve made these last several years also benefit single people.

    In the meantime, what I’ve done is rented out spare rooms, stayed on my parents cell phone plan and pay them the balance, and choosing employers that provide strong benefits for all.

  18. I just want to give a shoutout for the podcast “SOLO” by Dr. Peter McGraw for all the singles out there (and the marrieds who want to be their ally). It explores in depth the issues singles face in our couple-oriented society, from all sides (financial, emotional, health, loneliness v. aloneness, etc). His latest episode is titled “Singles as exhausted gift givers” and incredibly timely to this post 🙂

    1. Thank you Fille Frugale for the recommendation! Always interesting to read about different aspects of Single Life. I’m 32 and working out a strategy/philosophy of life for being non-married and child-free since that is what I envision for myself in the future. I can reciprocate with two books I’ve found interesting and helpful: “Going Solo” by sociologist Eric Klinenberg, and the fabulous “Live Alone and Like It” by 1936 Vogue editor Marjorie Hillis.

  19. Don’t forget all of the memberships and other items for which singles are charged more. For example, the museum membership that costs “Adult, $100; Family (up to two adults and three children living in the same household), $180.” This amounts to marrieds paying 10% less per adult for the same good or service and the kids going free. Singles subsidize everyone in this pricing structure.

  20. Well… there’s a few reasons that so many more Americans are living in multi-generational households than they have in decades, and this is one of them. Granted, married couples totally live with their kids, parents, and grandparents, but it’s a massive financial help for the three people in my immediate family who are single (or at least, unmarried). None of us make that much, compared to the cost of living, so it’s only with the power of all of our incomes combined (plus alimony payments and such) that we can live comfortably in a real, actual house! We are Captain Planet!!

    Being ace/aro and childfree, it does mean I have to listen to parental lectures about getting married eventually and having kids so someone can take care of me when I get older. Which is a totally valid concern and I’m pretty sure my future cats will end up eating my dead body, but also I rather feel like someone should have kids if they actually want the KIDS, not future caretakers… So you know, this option definitely depends on how willing you are to spend a significant chunk of your life with the people you grew up with. Sometimes I occasionally contemplate shoebox apartments in a city with excellent public transportation, I’m not gonna lie.

    Anyway, I totally feel this article. I tried adding my elderly mother on as a dependent when she retired so she could have health insurance, and apparently parents don’t count unless they’re disabled or something- just spouses and children. Paperwork issues are currently preventing her from being accepted into the state healthcare program, so we have to try applying a second time. If this nuclear family bullshit gets her killed or our house repossessed to pay medical bills, I am going to be INCREDIBLY pissed off.

  21. I’m single, love it, and am doing pretty well financially. But I’m always aware that I am my only fallback plan, which is a little stressful.

    I don’t do anything super creative now, but I did live in with roommates/in shared housing until I was almost 35 – I was SUPER ready to get my own place, but the rent was really cheap (about 1/3 the price of living solo), the location was good, and I liked my housemates. I couldn’t justify moving out on my own until I actually moved to a new state! The ~12 years of cheaper rent definitely helped put me in a good place money-wise.

  22. When I got a job outside the U.S. a few years out of college, my mom loaned me money to help with moving costs, etc. It came out of the money she’d inherited when her mother passed. She told me that I could pay it back to her or pass it on to my little sister when she was first living on her own. My overseas job paid really well compared to cost of living, but I also worked hard to save up that amount again. My sister was being really responsible, living with our other grandmother instead of her boyfriend and discussing budgets and pets and when she and her bf could afford to get an apartment. When I had the money saved, I let her know about the whole thing and she cried. They were nearly there themselves, but the extra gave them the ability to pay first time apartment costs more easily and give a cushion. I was really happy to be able to do that, but now as a still single person, my own living situation (back in the U.S.) is much more precarious than her (not married) partnered living situation.

  23. Another way singles get dinged is travel. I usually go on tours so as not to feel so alone, yet there is always a “single supplement” that can add $500+ to the cost. Not fair!

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