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21 Ways Single People Are Taxed More Than Married People on Tax Day and Every Other Day

ways single people are taxed moreAmericans become especially attuned to fairness in taxation when April 15 rolls around, but for people who are single, every day is tax day. When single people pay more than married people do, either financially or emotionally, they are subsidizing married people.

Here are just some of the ways in which every day is tax day if you are single.

  1. When you are single, every day is the day when you pay more in income taxes than married people do. I know you think that there is a marriage penalty in income taxes, but in fact, it is single people who are penalized. That’s what I concluded when I wrote Singled Out. (I also wrote about it here). I was even more sure when a few years later, Lily Kahng, an attorney who had worked in the tax office of the Department of the Treasury, came to the same conclusion:

“There is never a single person’s bonus – that is, a single person never pays less relative to a couple, whether married or unmarried, with the same amount of income as the single person (p. 660).”

If you want to know why you were so sure there is a marriage penalty, read Kahng’s law review article or my briefer discussion of it.

  1. When you are single, every day is the day when you pay into Social Security, just as your married co-workers do, but get so much less back.

Your Social Security benefits go back into the system when you die; your married coworker’s go to a surviving spouse, or a whole array of ex’s if your coworker’s previous marriages lasted long enough to count. While you are living, no one can leave their Social Security benefits to you. Meanwhile, married people of a certain age can draw some from a spouse’s benefits while the spouse is alive, and then when the spouse dies, they are awarded with even more.

  1. When you are single and paying into an IRA, every day is the day when your contributions to your IRA account will be burdened by penalties from which married people are exempt.

IRAs are better in some ways than Social Security with regard to treatment of single people, but as Lisa Arnold and Christina Campbell pointed out in their important article in the Atlantic there are still some special penalties aimed solely at single savers.

  1. When you are single, every day is the day when it costs more to stay healthy.

The costs of health spending are much higher for single people than for married couples.

  1. Every day, the costs of housing are higher for singles than for married people.

This is not just a matter of “economies of scale” (the money you save by sharing a place and splitting the costs of rent or mortgage and utilities and all the rest). There is also housing discrimination against single people.

     6. If you are a single man, every day is the day when you are likely being paid less for the same work, at the same level of seniority and expertise, as your married coworkers.

Research, including a study of pairs of identical twins in which one is married and the other single, suggest that married men get paid about about 26% more than single men.

  1. If you are single, every day is the day that you do not qualify for the special discounts for couples or families in insurance, travel, restaurant deals, health club memberships, dues for professional associations, and so much more.

Every time couples or families pay less per person for any goods or services than single people do, that’s a singles penalty. As they are stuck paying full price, the single people are subsidizing the couples and families. Check out this collection of unfair business practices.

  1. If you are single, every wedding and shower gift that you give is a subsidy to a married couple who probably already has two of everything, including salaries.

The costs of being single are not just financial:

  1. Every day that employers and coworkers expect single people to take the least desirable work assignments or travel schedules or vacation times, or to work more hours for the same pay, singles are paying a price for their jobs that married people are not.
  2. Every day that political leaders and candidates vow to fight for “working families” but not for workers, and every time they promote their concern for married couples and families without taking comparable action on behalf of single people, they are turning their backs on about half of their constituents. Singles are getting less for their votes, their taxes, and their fees than married people are.
  3. Every day that journalists make claims about the supposedly-positive implications of getting married that are not, and simply cannot, be supported by the evidence, is a day when the cost of single life is compounded by shoddy practices. It is a day when the people who are tasked with finding and publishing the truth are instead perpetuating myths and ideologies.
  4. Every day that social science contributes more to our understanding of marriage than to single life, and – worse – condones misinformation that stigmatizes single people, is a day that singles are suffering biased and unfair treatment by the very people who are supposed to be dedicated to impartiality and truthfulness.
  5. Every day, single people are at risk of receiving lower quality health care, or of facing more obstacles to getting the care they need, than people who are married.
  6. Every day that college students peruse the course catalog and find all sorts of offerings about marriage and family but nothing about single life, and every time they open a book and get treated to a shameless show of singlism and matrimania, they are experiencing a demeaning and gratuitous cost of single life.
  7. Every day that a book, movie, or TV show serves up still another matrimaniacal or singlist plot line is a day when singles pay the “bashed-by-the-media” tax. When the two romantic characters face obstacles but come together by the end, there is also a stupefying-boredom tax. Everyone pays that one, though.
  8. Every day that a stunningly successful single person is asked why they are not married, or described as having a lesser life, is a day when we have all suffered the narrow-minded and ideologically-blinkered tax.
  9. Every day that single people are invited to lunch instead of dinner, to weekday events instead of weekend events, to children’s birthday parties but not the theater or movies, and every day that single guests are offered the couch in the living room while married guests are given a bedroom with a door that shuts, single people are paying the “we-think-you-are-children” tax.
  10. Every day that single parents are told that their kids are doomed is a day when single parents and their children pay the price of inaccurate representations of what the scientific research actually shows. It is insulting, demoralizing, and wrong.
  11. Every day that a friend or family member heads down the path of serious coupledom or gets married and then excludes the single person who was once an important person in their social circle, single people are paying the “excluded-from-the-Married-Couples-Club” tax.
  12. Every day that single people are not allowed to take time off from work to care for the people who are important to them, or are not asked about the important people in their lives, or not welcomed to bring someone other than a romantic partner to a social event, or are treated dismissively when they are concerned about issues with their friends, they are paying the emotional price of having their important relationships devalued.
  13. Every day that a coupled person tries to “fix up” single people, without any indication that the single people consider themselves in need of fixing, single people are getting assessed with a presumptuousness tax. It’s obnoxious.

Now that we have marriage equality, it is time for us to have some singles equality.

[Note. For collections of articles on various topics relevant to single life, click here. I just added a new collection of links, “Health care and illness in the lives of people who are single.”]

Calendar photo available from Shutterstock

21 Ways Single People Are Taxed More Than Married People on Tax Day and Every Other Day

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single." Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2016). 21 Ways Single People Are Taxed More Than Married People on Tax Day and Every Other Day. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Apr 2016
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