There is no marriage penalty. There is only a singles penalty.
That's what I discovered when I was researching Singled Out. (I also wrote about it here). To be sure, I have no expertise on taxes. So I felt reassured that I got it right when attorney Lily Kahng, who served "three years as attorney advisor in the Office of Tax Legislative Counsel in the U. S. Department of the Treasury," made the same case in a more sophisticated way in a law review article. If you still think there's a marriage penalty, read that article, or my briefer discussion of it, to see how you've been misled.
The singles penalty in income taxes, though, is just the beginning of the ways in which single people pay extra simply for being single. In fact, if you are single, every day is tax day.
Some of the stunning details of the high price of single life were unmasked by Onely's Lisa Arnold and Christina Campbell in their article in the Atlantic (discussed here). Singled Out (especially the chapter on the myth of family values: "Let's give all the perks, benefits, gifts, and cash to couples and call it family values") puts it all in context. The Singlism book offers plenty of examples and analyses from many domains. It is time to put to rest the myth of the single people who are not contributing their fair share.
Here are just a few of the ways in which every day is tax day when you are single:
1. When you are single, every day is the day when you pay into Social Security, just as your married co-workers do, but get so much less back.
[Some details: Your Social Security benefits go back into the system when you die while your married coworker's go to a surviving spouse, or a whole array of ex's if your coworker's previous marriages lasted long enough to count. While you are living, no one can leave their Social Security benefits to you. Meanwhile, married people of a certain age can draw some from a spouse's benefits while the spouse is alive, and then when the spouse dies, they are awarded with even more.]
2. When you are single and paying into an IRA, every day is the day when your contributions to your IRA account will be burdened by penalties from which married people are exempt.
[Some details: IRAs are better in some ways than Social Security with regard to treatment of single people, but there are still some special penalties aimed solely at single savers.]
3. When you are single, every day is the day when it costs more to stay healthy.
[Some details: The costs of health spending are much higher for single people than for married couples.]
4. Every day, the costs of housing are higher for singles than for married people.
[Some details: This is not just a matter of "economies of scale" (the money you save by sharing a place and splitting the costs of rent or mortgage and utilities and all the rest). There is also housing discrimination against single people.]
5. Every day, the income earned by single people is taxed more than the income of married people.
[Some details: There is a singles penalty in income taxes, not a marriage penalty. (See above for the relevant links and references.)]
6. If you are a single man, every day is the day when you are likely being paid less for the same work, at the same level of seniority and expertise, as your married coworkers.
[Some details: Research, including a study of pairs of identical twins in which one is married and the other single, suggest that married men get paid about about 26 percent more than single men.]
7. If you are single, every day is the day that you do not qualify for the special discounts for couples or families in insurance, travel, restaurant deals, health club memberships, dues for professional associations, and so much more.
[Some details: Every time couples or families pay less per person for any goods or services than single people do, that's a singles penalty. As they are stuck paying full price, the single people are subsidizing the couples and families. Check out this collection of unfair business practices.]
8. If you are single, every wedding and shower gift that you give is a subsidy to a married couple who probably already has two of everything, including salaries.
The costs of being single are not just financial.
Continue reading here to see 11 more ways that single people pay more and get less and to learn about the new Get-a-CLUE campaign to raise awareness of singlism and motivate social change. New participants are welcome!
The reality of being a woman — by the numbers. Learn more