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The Costs of Single Life: Some Are Avoidable, But Others, Currently, Are Not

I signed up for “First Reads” from the Washington Post, so every day I get a curated list of some of their latest stories. Every time, one particular story is highlighted in the subject line of the email. I was so delighted when, just before tax day, the subject line proclaimed, “What it costs to be single.”

Tax season is always an appropriate time to remind people of how much more single people pay than married people. I’m not just talking about money. Single people pay psychological and emotional taxes, too, when they are stereotyped, stigmatized, ostracized, ignored, or discriminated against.

The topic of the high price of single life has been tackled before, perhaps most compellingly in a wildly popular article by Lisa Arnold and Christina Campbell, “The high price of being single in America,” published in Atlantic magazine in 2013. Arnold and Campbell came up with some startling conclusions. I thought the new article in the Washington Post would be an updated analysis of the price of single life.

At first, when I scrolled through the “First Read” stories, I couldn’t find the one on the costs of single life. I thought maybe the headline was referring to a story on the expenses when you are expecting – so, maybe the story was actually about the high price of single parenting. It wasn’t. I looked again, this time more closely, and I realized why I had skipped over the relevant story the first time. It was about dating, and I never read stories about dating. In the email I got, that story was titled, “The single life: what it costs to date.”

I’m single and I don’t date. So it costs me nothing to date. I understand that some single people do date, and for them, that counts as a cost of single life. What I object to is the Post’s headline, “What it costs to be single,” which seems to suggest that dating is an obvious and inevitable part of single life. Maybe, to the Washington Post, dating defines single life.

Well, it doesn’t. A Pew survey asked unmarried Americans (divorced, widowed, and always-single) whether they were in a committed relationship. Twenty-six percent said that they were. The biggest group by far, 55%, said that they were not in a committed relationship and that they were not looking for a partner.

There are many costs to single life in the United States that are not optional. For example, financial discrimination against single people is written right into the laws of the land. Until or unless those laws are changed, those costs of single life are inevitable.

Most years, around tax time, I like to compile the ways in which single people are taxed more than married people. My most recent version is “21 ways singles are taxed more than married people on tax day and every day.”

Other people, asked to put together such a list, might list something I never include in my lists: the cost of living alone. Not all single people live alone, but among those who do, they lose out on what economists call “the economies of scale.” Solo dwellers do not get to split the mortgage or the rent, the utility bills, or any other living expenses with anyone else. At grocery stores, they are stuck buying food in smaller portions, often paying more per unit than the people who buy those big, often discounted, “family sized” portions.

I don’t include the high price of living alone among the special costs of single life because, in theory at least, living alone is optional. (For people like me, living alone does not seem optional. I love having my own place. It feels more like a need than a mere preference.) Any single person who does not want to live alone, or who cannot afford to live alone, can look for other ways of living. (I described many of them in How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century.)

Even without considering the costs of single life that some people consider to be optional, such as dating or living alone, the price of single life is needlessly high. With fairer laws and more enlightened ways of thinking, single life could be much more affordable, both financially and emotionally.

The Costs of Single Life: Some Are Avoidable, But Others, Currently, Are Not

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. (2017). The Costs of Single Life: Some Are Avoidable, But Others, Currently, Are Not. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 17, 2018, from


Last updated: 14 Apr 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 14 Apr 2017
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