The cost of being single and childfree

African Americans, Featured — By Angela Stanley on February 11, 2010 at 8:27 am

It’s apparently more cost efficient to be married than it is to be single. Well, perhaps not in all cases, but there does seem to be benefits that are pretty good and, so far, largely unattainable for single people. Though many have delved into the financial pros and cons of being married versus single, few are discussing who will potentially be disproportionately affected given the attention paid to the “marriage crisis” of Black women. If Black women are significantly less likely to be married than any other group of Americans, it stands to reason that Black women will also be missing out on many of the economic, professional, and even personal perks that many others will benefit from in their lifetimes.

The Finances

Obviously, having two household incomes and sharing expenses lessens the monthly expenditures for married couples versus single people. Food, utilities and monthly mortgage/rent paid in entirely by one person, now split in half when incomes unite, makes finances a bit more manageable, I would imagine. In addition, car and homeowner insurance rates drop – married couples are deemed less of a risk – and health insurance becomes more affordable. Married couples have access to health insurance through their spouses which has proven to be much less expensive than having to pay individually. Married couples are able to plan for retirement earlier, and Social Security taxes are lower. Single people, on the other hand, don’t have access to anyone else’s Social Security or pension benefits, and cannot transfer their own earned benefits to anyone else.

Speaking of taxes, according to a 2006 article, “The married couple also gets some relief on both federal and Social Security taxes, thanks to the slightly lower tax rates associated with joint filing. They pay out a combined 29% of their salaries, compared with the 35% the single person pays.” For now, the marriage penalty is virtually eliminated so that the higher-earning spouse can protect his or her income from higher taxes. As explains it, “[The] so-called ‘marriage penalty’ is calculated by comparing two sets of couples—one unmarried and one married. A single person reporting the same taxable income as a married couple filing jointly always pays more in taxes. Remember that married couples can be rewarded with those lower taxes even if only one spouse works, so it is not just a matter of comparing two workers to one.”

People with children can also receive tax credits, so a couple with a child will see a much larger tax return than a single person without a child. Of course, single people can have children too, but a tax credit pales in comparison to the expense of raising a child on one income versus two.

The Workplace

Even in the workplace, the differences between married versus single people can be seen, or at least felt. “A recent survey found more than 21 percent of workers who have never been married believe their companies show favoritism to married co-workers over single ones. Even more workers who have never been married (nearly 30 percent) claim their company provides more flexibility for married co-workers over single ones.” Whether it is flexible work schedules, extra personal time, or maternity and paternity leave, the differences are there. Granted, it’s nice to work in an accommodating environment, however, for many, the accommodations can feel like favoritism.

In many cases, companies have gatherings for spouse and family appreciation. There are often occasions for couples to mix and mingle with higher-ups and their spouses. Play dates between co-workers with children of similar ages often lead to better relationships and more opportunities at work. All of these things can give the appearance of what some might call an unfair advantage for married couples and parents.

The Personal Life

As Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City so memorably put it, “You know what? I am Santa. I did a little mental addition and over the years I have bought Kyra an engagement gift, a wedding gift, then there was the trip to Maine for the wedding, three baby gifts…in total I have spent over $2300.00 celebrating her life…If you are single, after graduation, there isn’t one occasion where people celebrate you.” Although humorous, single people shell out big bucks to celebrate the life choices of their friends who are married and/or have children. Pointing it out here doesn’t mean that single people don’t enjoy doing special things for friends, it’s merely an acknowledgment that these things come up often, they can be expensive especially on one income, and they are rarely reciprocated.

In terms of an emotional and physical expense, married couples are said to be healthier, live longer, less likely to smoke or drink heavily (which lowers rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory disease), less likely to contract STDs, manage stress better and are less likely to suffer from the physically and emotional ailments that stem from it, and have lower rates of mental illness and suicide. All of these are huge positives that singles, by default, will have to work extra hard at to achieve.

Single Black Women

With all of the media attention that has been paid to the dismal marriage rates for Black women, little discussion is taking place around the financial, physical, and emotional burdens of it all. Yes, single Black women are buying homes, earning college degrees, having children, and succeeding at careers, but doing all of that alone can take its toll and can be largely unfair, making for one unhealthy and unhappy person. It is also the case that single mothers, in general, are more likely to live in poverty; but, 21% of single Black mothers are in poverty, versus 6% of single White mothers. In 2001, the poverty rate for Black women was more than double that of White women. If estimates are correct and upwards of 70% of Black women will never marry, the vast majority of Black women will be disproportionately affected by the expenses of being single. With noticeable differences regarding the workplace, insurance rates, health and monetary benefits, taxation, and social norms and a population of people unable to marry, it’s time to rethink those norms and accommodate a changing society that no longer consists of a married majority. It’s unfair to reward the life choices of some and not others when all are valid realities that should be treated as such. In the end, Carrie Bradshaw says it best. “The fact is sometimes it is hard to walk in a single woman’s shoes; that’s why we need really special ones now and then, to make the walk a little more fun.”

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Author: Angela Stanley (5 Articles)

Angela Stanley

Angela Stanley is a research associate at the Kirwan Institute. She is a graduate of Purdue University and Ohio State University. Her research and writing interests include race, gender, American politics, intersectionality, public policy, and popular culture.


  • Nicky says:

    Really glad to see discussion of the disparate impact of laws and economic policies based on marital status. The Alternatives to Marriage Project is the only organization we know of that is dedicated to ending marital status discrimination. We educate the public and policy makers about the realities of American’s individual and family lives, and propose solutions that recognize the nation’s great diversity and help all of us to thrive. Please visit for detail on a variety of policy issues we’re working on. We would love to work with you!

  • The Kleeneze man says:

    Looks like yet another case of P.L.O.M desease to me.
    Of Course society favours Marriage. That’s REAL marriage, none of this same sex civil partnership NONSENSE – don’t get me started there, same sex relationships are NOT normal or natural. Yes it’s a personal choice, but so is taking Heroin, drinking and driving, going on a rampage through the local Mall with an automatic rifle, should we give equal rights to everyone who’s made abnormal and unnatural choices.
    Back to marriage then, it should be favoured by society. It brings stabilty, responsibility, commitment. Perhaps there may be a link between rising crime, lowering of moral standards and the increased acceptance of children born out of wedlock?
    As for the buying of gifts to celebrate married peoples life choices, what a load of nonsense. GIFTS are given freely, if they aren’t then they’re not being given to a friend. And if the person who’s receiving the gift isn’t your friend and you still give it, and you expect sympathy, then you deserve all the sympathy in the world. Not for your circumstances but for your poor lot in life. Imagine being so stupid that you buy gifts worth thousands of dollars for people who aren’t your friend.
    If you have a problem with your employer ‘discriminating’ against you then sack them, it’s simple.
    I work for a company which has no discrimination at all, race, age, colour, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, looks. Merit is given entirely on results, or is that now classed as discrimination too?
    Take a look at some of the people I work with here
    There must be more organisations like this in the world?

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