How does it cost you financially to be single? A reporter at US News and World Report asked that question of our good friend Christina over at Onely, and wow, did she get an earful! Among the many examples Christina offered were these:

  • As a self-employed individual, she pays more for health insurance than she would if she were coupled, or if she had a spouse who had a plan that would cover her;
  • Couples can contribute to each other’s IRAs; singles have no comparable partners in retirement savings;
  • Married people often get bereavement leave for the close family members of both partners; she could not get a leave to go to her uncle’s funeral (if she went anyway, she would probably have to use up vacation days);
  • Health clubs and many other groups offer cheaper memberships to members of couples than to single people.

US News and World Report was interested in the unique financial challenges facing single people because of a report that was recently issued (by MetLife Mature Market Institute and the Society of Actuaries) showing that singles were not as far along in their preparation for retirement as were married couples. For example, singles have lower incomes, fewer assets, and lower rates of homeownership than do married couples. Fewer singles than couples believed that they were on track to meet their retirement goals.

In some ways, the story was a good one. It is important to recognize and discuss the economics of being single. And of course, the reporter had the great good sense of talking to Christina and also to our friend Eleanore Wells of The Spinsterlicious Life. (More on her later.) Noting that married-couple households are now in the minority, and that single-person households have been growing, the story warned: “If singles aren’t financially secure, then a large chunk of the country isn’t financially secure.”

You know there’s a “but” coming. Actually, a few. Pointing to one of the ways in which single people are less prepared for retirement, the story notes that single people earn less than married people. That’s true – especially for men. But what is left out of the discussion is that the discrepancy in pay is likely due to discrimination, as I explained with reference to the relevant studies in Singled Out. (There’s even more about discrimination in Singlism.)

Here’s another example. The reporter notes that single people are less likely than married people to have met with a financial planner or to have retirement investments. But she does not take the next step in noting that those sorts of steps are not free. With fewer financial resources, due in some part to discrimination, single people simply do not have the economic degrees of freedom that married people do to sink money into advisors and retirement accounts.

Now to Eleanore Wells. She makes an important point – one that I often hear from people who are divorced. A spouse who squanders money is not such a great financial asset. (I’d also add that divorce is another economic sink-hole.) Our Spinsterlicious friend also notes another nontrivial advantage of being single: All of your decisions about money are your own.

The US News and World Report story ends with a set of tips for single people about planning for retirement. (There are many more in Jan Cullinane’s new book.) They are mostly about dealing with the existing system. That’s when Christina offers the most important suggestion in the article, one that applies to many realms of life beyond the financial:

“Why should singles adapt their behavior to a system that discriminates against them? We should be fighting against the institutionalization of the married-is-better-than-single trope.”

[Notes: (1) You can read more about retirement planning for singles in this post and this book. (2) You can find feeds from Onely, Spinsterlicious, and other enlightened singles bloggers at Single with Attitude. (3) Some of my other recent posts are below. The one about making friends online is generating some interesting discussion.]

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