Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

Law Review Article on Taxes: Uncoupled Singles Always Pay a Penalty

A law review article distinguishes between an "unmarried couple's penalty or bonus" and a "single person's penalty." An unmarried couple can, under certain circumstances, end up paying more in taxes if they marry - that's what we usually think of as the marriage penalty. But they can also pay less. A single person (not part of a couple) never pays less on the same income as a couple. Read More

Single income taxes

This is something I've been talking about for years, actually my mom taught me about this. If you are a single filer you pay a huge amount of your income in taxes in comparison to joint filers. You do not get the additional deduction for another person plus you get more withheld from a paycheck than a married couple.

When you are married you do not have to maintain two households, as you observed the entire responsibility is on one person only. Given the fact that two people consume only slightly more than one in the form of electric, water, etc. it is pathetic that singles pay so much more in taxes. Also I could continue ranting about the child tax credits that allow a parents to get back more than they pay in taxes, but that's for another post.

I don't understand why as the majority in this country we cannot get together and demand better treatment in our tax code. In 1969 single women mailed teabags to Congress as a reminder of the Boston Tea Party and got the taxes for singles lower to a more tolerable level. It might not work now since the Tea Party is in existence we need to come up with something else to get our point across.


Taxes go to provide services. You like feeling protected by the military? Good. It costs more to protect TWO people or a family of FOUR than it costs to protect a single person.

How about social security? A "never formally worked" spouse collects on the working spouses benefit? How's that fair? If the spouse worked, and made significantly less, the spouse collects the not his/her amount, but the higher of the two!

The simple solution is tax every one person who makes $X at the same rate - NO DISCOUNTS.

Hear, hear!!

Bravo on this excellent article and posts. I wonder what it will take to change this?

Unfortunately most of the

Unfortunately most of the people who make the tax are married, and somehow they manage to justify marriage as reason to pay lower taxes.

This week I got an email from "Barack Obama" linking me to this white house site- a calculator of how much you can save from the Recovery Act:

It's honestly disgusting. Here are a few highlights:

-Of course there is the home buyer tax credit. While this is not explicitly discriminatory in favor of married couples (or couples in general), I believe that under the surface it is. While a lot of singles own homes, the fact is that many can't afford to buy a home, and honestly a lot of times it's not needed. It doesn't make sense for me to buy a big house when I can live in a small apartment. If I bought a whole house, it would just be wasteful.

-Then there are credits for energy efficiency improvements to your home. Again, if you don't own a home, you can't make EE improvements...if I owned a home, I would make EE improvements, but I don't.

-There's also the child tax credit- up to $1,000 per child. Of course, single people have children, but let's face it, this is going to be more applicable to married people in general. What I don't understand is why you get a tax BREAK for having children. You should have to pay HIGHER taxes.

-The one I really love is the "Making Work Pay" tax credit. Single people save up to $400 per year, married couples up to $800. This is all fantastic if both members of the couple make the exact same income. This is the "making work pay" tax credit, yet, if you are a non-working spouse, you are getting a $400 tax credit for staying home and being married! How on earth does the government not see what's wrong with this?

I'm for single's rights all

I'm for single's rights all the way and I've agreed thus far with the post and the related comments but, Lauri, I don't see a problem with any of this.

Single people DO own homes.
There should be breaks for people making energy efficiency improvements. It's good for the environment. This issue is independent of the marriage issue.
Single people DO have kids. And I completely disagree that people with kids should be penalized with higher taxes. Like Bella said, this is about marriage, NOT kids. Should parents get back more than they paid? No.
Making Work Pay sounds fair, as long as, like you said, the people reaping the benefit are actually working. What would be unfair is if singles got, say, $300 and couples got $800.

But I do agree with changing the tax code to make it more equitable. Let's run with it.

How do people not get it?

I don't understand how people just do not understand that a single person receives one income and a married couple (usually) receives two incomes. I also don't understand how they don't see that the single person has the same expenses as a married couple. The couple doesn't have twice as many homes, furniture, appliances, phone bills, cable bills, internet bills, water bills, electric bills, garbage bills, etc. They also don't have twice the amount of house work, yard work, home maintenance, meal preparation, or errands to run. These people also do their own taxes and don't see the benefit.

I actually had a heated discussion about this issue a couple years ago at tax time. I was also suggesting abolishing the joint tax returns and the married woman I was talking to totally missed the point I was making. She then said that I should look into dating service then I wouldn't be so depressed about my "woman troubles". What does a discussion about money, income, expenses, and taxes have to do with dating?

At least people here understand.

P.S. I just finished reading "Singled Out" and thoroughly enjoyed it.


That is so outrageous about that dating comment, and so relevant to why I wrote Singled Out and write this blog. Thanks so much for letting me know that you enjoyed Singled Out.

Welcome, Jack

Hi Jack,
You will find that a lot of people are so hard-wired into the couple mentality that they are simply incapable of grasping that anyone actually prefers to be single. Like that snide married lady, they will relentlessly try to figure out what your "problem" is. You're set in your ways, selfish, not willing to compromise, yada yada yada. There is definitely something wrong with you if you're not like them. (Behold their perfection!) One of our group said a while back that "those people just aren't in our tribe." I like that. Let us celebrate our Dark Aura of Singlehood. >: )
By the way, in the year I was in the process of divorce, my ex and I reluctantly saved $2,000 by filing jointly. Now I'm a self-employed, compulsively organized receipt saver and I used to work in a tax firm, as an admin person, but I picked up enough knowledge to itemize my effective tax rate down to 8.7%. That gives me more money to put into my IRA, in the hope of having the heat and lights on when I die alone with my cats. >: )

from the married side

for the record, I am married, and I still find the tax breaks for married couples utterly ridiculous and unjustifiable. They have nothing to do with social policy, and everything with singlism. This is why they are in an entirely different category than child tax credits - those help people who bring up children, whether they are single, living together, married, or choosing any family structure that works for them.

There is no rhyme or reason why we should pay less tax now that we're married than before, when we lived together - we shared the same apartment, we supported each other through unemployment, and cooked each other's meals, just generally doing what people do for their relatives and best friends when they need them. But that's called having people in your life, and not necessarily a reason for a tax break.

I'm all for well-thought out social policy and targeted social programs, but when governments try to regulate marriage and create financial incentives for family structures, they usually end up very clumsy and ultimately unfair solutions. This is why I think governments should just keep out of the business of telling people if they should marry, and if they do, then whom.


Your tax break is evened out by the thousands of people paying the marriage penalty

Ideal would be: no "married filing jointly", no dependent stuff

The more I think about it, the more I think it would be better in many ways if we simplified the tax code in two important respects:

1) No "married filing jointly", just file as ... you. A married person would file as himself or herself, same as anyone else.

2) Phase out, over many years, the deduction for dependents. We're in a full world, and there's little to be gained by 1914 style public policy to breed more footsoldiers. Even if we still want to have wars between big countries (must we?) the number of people a country can throw into the meatgrinder isn't the deciding thing anymore. Bluntly put, nukes changed everything.

Anyway, take it from me as an economist: the conventional theories of "more people, more growth" may have made sense 100 years ago, but today they do not. A concept that is growing in European economics, and to some extent in Japan, is the notion of "qualitative growth" over old-skool "quantitative growth." This is the future. Better stuff and Better people, not more stuff and more people (grossly simplified).

Having children should be done as a private decision, and not massively encouraged via tax policy. I know that's "radical" but in the 21st century, -quality- of children is going to matter a lot more than -quantity-.

'Phase out, over many years,

'Phase out, over many years, the deduction for dependents'

I disagree with this in regards to the child tax credit. They gave it you in two phases then get rid of it in two phases over 2 years. Also they need to make the credits non-refundable, if the credits bring you down to -0- being owed then that's it, you owe -0-. People should not look at April 15th as a pay day and more as a time to pay your fair, yes fair, share of the cost of running this country. I am beyond through paying thousands more in the same income than someone with either a spouse or children at home.

The issue of

The issue of dependents/reproduction I think will be the last possible frontier to cross. No one ever wants to touch that issue. In 2010 America, I don't know anyone who did not have a choice whether or not to have kids, or to have that additional kid. I'm sure there was a time, not too long ago, when having a kid was just, "something that happened" to people and financially, a tough break. A tax credit then, ok, makes some sense. It's completely the opposite now. Given the social costs of educating kids and the impact they have on the environment and shared resources, people should honestly be getting tax credits for using birth control. People can have as many kids as they want, but in the end it's how many kids they WANT. I doubt any politician in the United States will touch that issue with a ten foot pole within my lifetime.

Agreed! It's a radioactive topic

I can tell you, it's only possible within private settings to have an intelligent conversation about economics and population policy. Publicly, any hint at discouraging more than one or two children per woman is one of those "electrified third rail" topics. Sure to bring out fundamentalist tea baggers thundering about being anti-children. It seems as though there's a big chunk of the wingnut population that genuinely believes women should be pumping out children like rabbit litters, because...because ya gots to have a lot of infantry for the next war, ya know what I'm sayin'?


I don't think we'll see public policy being very helpful in this regard. But I'm hopeful that individuals will take the lead. I had a rare uplifting moment on this the other day, when I overheard a young woman at work saying if she ever has kids, she would only want one or two, to be able to do a good job of it.

I agree with both completely

I agree with both completely (and logically)

While the issue concerns the unfair taxing of singles .... I can't help being continually astounded by the growing numbers of SSAHM's (the current term for what used to be called Welfare Moms)

Having been to a recent high school graduation ceremony, I could not help but notice the fact that there were numerous young ladies happily bopping up to accept their diploma with one in the oven and/or one in tow.

They collect aid to dependant children, food stamps(or food credit cards)WIC, energy assistance, rental assistance, child tax credits earned income credits (if they work at all) and free day care whether or not they work at all.

These children are not potential "soldiers". They sit on social networking sites when they are not hanging out on the street. Most of them feel they can "get off welfare"... when they get their own reality show!

Now I suppose there should be some debate about how single these SSAHMs really are. The one who lives across the street from me is 25 years old, has four children, and is currently expecting a fifth. She "rents a room" from the parents of her 30 year old "boyfriend" who is on social security and SSI for well...who knows. He drives a motorcycle without wearing a helmet. Maybe he's mentally challanged?So SSAHM will likely be getting social security for the one in the oven.

How single is that?

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Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.


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