Which Costs More: Being Single or Married?


cost of being singleWhile nowadays, everyone buzzes about how expensive weddings can be, it turns out the price tag on one’s nuptials is a mere pittance compared to the cost of remaining single.

In The Atlantic Monthly’s “The High Price of Being Single in America,” authors Lisa Arnold and Christina Campbell argue that, compared to a married woman of the same income, a single woman, over the course of her lifetime, could pay an extra $1,022,096—just for being single.

Yes, you read that right.

What, other than a second income, would the single woman be missing out on? Tax breaks and extra Social Security benefits, plus savings in health and housing costs, for starters.

Really? Then why are married people always complaining about the marriage penalty?

Amazed by this figure, I dug deeper, plus found out how these differences play out in the lives of real single and married people—men and women. What I learned is that the calculations are not quite so clear cut.

The Married/Single Tax Divide

The Atlantic authors claim that due to laws favoring married couples, a single peson earning $40,000 a year pays $6,181 in taxes on that income, while a married individual with the same income pays only $5,162—a savings of more than $1,000 annually.

Those calculations do not mention the “marriage penalty,” in which married couples pay more taxes if their newly combined income pushes them into a higher tax bracket.

After marrying in 2008, Laurie Itkin from San Diego began paying more than $20,000 extra in federal and state taxes annually. “My husband jokes that we should get divorced not because he doesn’t love me anymore, but because we experience the so-called ‘marriage penalty’ in filing a joint tax return,” she explained.

RELATED: Should You File Jointly—And Other Tax Questions You Don’t the Answers To

Even though the Itkins are victims of the “marriage penalty,” some couples actually do receive the “marriage bonus” mentioned in The Atlantic’s article, which typically occurs when the income levels of the two spouses are widely disparate. For instance, couples with only one earner almost always enjoy a bonus, because the higher earner’s income moves into a lower bracket.

Take Greg Davis from Los Angeles, California who got married in 2009; his wife’s work as a tutor did not bring in much money, so he enjoyed the marriage bonus. “I save money on taxes now because when my wife and I combined incomes we didn’t get pushed into a higher tax bracket and got much better deductions than when we were single,” said Davis.

Of course, whether or not you pay more in taxes depends on a lot of factors: You can use Tax Policy Center’s Marriage Bonus and Penalty Tax Calculator to see how marriage would affect your tax payments.

RELATED: 11 Things You’re Embarrassed to Ask About Taxes

A Roof of One’s Own: Comparing Housing & Health Insurance Costs

While tax breaks may vary person-to-person, data shows living costs such as housing and insurance—or what we at LearnVest would call Essential Expenses—are almost always higher for singles.

Using averages from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a single person in his 20s spends about $9,964 on housing where a married couple the same age averages $8,844. Over 60 years this can add up to over $67,200 in savings for a married couple.

Not only do singles pay more in living costs, but they also don’t have a spouse to help them cover the expenses. Kimberly Michel of Columbia, Missouri said, “All of the home expenses fall to me and my one income. If I were married and my husband also worked, my rent and bills on my two-bedroom apartment would be split in half.”

  • anna

    If my boyfriend and I got married tomorrow I would be paying the exact same in taxes. Over time I’d be paying more because as our incomes rise we’ll be bumped into the next tax bracket. I don’t understand how housing can be cheaper for married people. Insurance I can understand but housing? Are you saying they charge single people more for rent or mortgages because they are single?

    • Rachel Rawlinson

      I think they’re referring to single people living alone vs. a married couple living together splitting the same rent or mortgage.

    • Savannah Jay

      I think they’re just referring to two people splitting the same mortgage or rent. (I.E. a single person pays $800/month for a mortgage, each person in a married couple would only pay $400 on the same house). This assumes that single people don’t look for roommates, though.

  • guestie

    Wow, who are these people you refer to in the article, they have majorly cheap rent and cheap healthcare average costs! Yes, being single is VERY expensive and I know I pay more for everything than my married friends and get no cuts, also most of them have husbands who earn quite a bit of money.

  • http://www.facebook.com/MatthewAlanLee Matthew Lee

    You may save a little being married, but then chances are you’re going to have kids… which is going to be much more expensive.

    • Tara Green

      Which you also get tax breaks for and much much more back at the end of the year where the rest of us pay…