Since the 1950s, the number of legally single individuals in the U.S. has increased dramatically. According to the 2010 census, nearly 100 million Americans age 18 and older (43.6%) are unmarried, and of these, 61% have never been married. In fact, a 2006 Pew survey found that 55% of single people are uninterested in finding a partner.
Social scientist Bella DePaulo, author of Singlism: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Stop It, points out that “the percentage of households comprised of married parents and their children has dropped to about 20 percent.” As the number of single Americans continues to grow and those who choose to get married wait longer to do so, advocates against singlism, or discrimination against single people, are becoming more vocal.
Married couples routinely receive superior rates on services such as car insurance, employee benefits, cellphone service, and more. Couples’ discounts are available for gym memberships, travel services, and tickets to events.
“In the marketplace, deals that make products, services, and entertainment cheaper by the couple are deals that are subsidized by the single people who are paying full price,” DePaul wrote for The Huffington Post. Beyond these monetary rewards for married couples, institutionalized systems in the U.S. cause gay couples, unmarried partners, and singles to carry a heavier financial burden, effectively paying for the benefits of married people.
Married couples can save thousands by filing jointly rather than separately. According to research presented in the article “The High Price of Being Single in America,” when the discrepancy is extrapolated over 40 years, there is a disturbingly large gap. “Our single woman earning $80,000 per year paid $645,000 in income taxes,” Lisa Arnold and Christina Campbell said in The Atlantic. “Our married woman earning $80,000 paid $490,000 in income taxes — a difference of $155,000.”
Singles are also forced to pay more in estate taxes, as they cannot transfer assets to another person the way a spouse can. “In fact, the recent challenge to DOMA was motivated largely by this issue,” DePaulo said. “Two women, Thea Clara Spyer and Edith Windsor, had married in Canada and were living in New York. When Ms. Spyer died, Ms. Windsor inherited her property but was assessed about $360,000 in taxes that a married man and woman would not have to pay.”
2. Social Security
Social Security is a prime example of a government system that favors married people. According to research by Arnold and Campbell, the following rules stand to benefit married people at the expense of singles:
- A married woman can receive up to 50% of her husband’s benefits while he is alive.
- Spouses can receive 100% of their dead spouse’s benefits if the deceased’s benefits are higher.
- When married people reach retirement age, they can claim Social Security as a spouse and then again later as a worker.
- If a currently unmarried person was previously married for at least 10 years and is not entitled to Social Security based on his or her own work history, this person can collect on the ex-spouse’s benefits.
- If a married person dies, the money can be routed back to the family. A single person’s benefits cannot be routed to loved ones, so that money is funneled back into the system.
A married person with an IRA can list two beneficiaries, while singles can only list one. In addition, while spouses can withdraw money from an IRA early for medical or education expenses without penalty, singles cannot.
4. Health care
Aside from the fact that a married couple can share one health insurance policy, health care for a married couple or a family often amounts to much lower costs and premiums. Once again, calculations from Arnold and Campbell showed a disparity in their Atlantic piece: “Our married woman with an income of $80,000 spent $331,200 on health over 60 years, and our unmarried woman with the same income spent $379,200 — a difference of $48,000.” The researchers attribute this to “discriminatory policies by companies and the U.S. government.”
The Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or color, religion, national origin, gender, familial status (having children and pregnancy), and physical or mental disability, but not marital status (or sexual orientation, for that matter). At the state level, the situation isn’t much better. Only 24 states prohibit marital status discrimination in housing, and the laws are often limited to specific circumstances. Many have reported landlords who discriminate on the basis of religious ideas regarding unmarried cohabitation, and some buildings and communities are only open to families.
Currently, just 22 states and the District of Columbia expressly protect against marital status discrimination in employment. Disgruntled singles often report that they are regularly called upon to work late, while employees with families can leave on time. In some industries, employees have reported a cultural problem that favors married people over singles in hiring as well as promotions.
Benefits packages from employers routinely include attractive family plans, which are great for families but not so great for single people, whose premiums are effectively subsidizing those affordable family plans. In addition, under the Family Medical Leave Act, married people are permitted to take leave to care for their spouses, while “single people are not covered to care for an equally important person in their life, such as a sibling or close friend,” writes DePaulo in The Huffington Post.