As if all those smug couples on Valentine’s Day weren’t enough reason to lament the single life, it turns out that going stag also has some financial drawbacks.
The disadvantages of being single are particularly relevant at a time when the average age of first marriage is higher than ever before — 27 for women and 29 for men, up from 20 for women and 23 for men in 1960, according to U.S. Census Bureau data that Pew Research Center.
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Married people tend to have significantly more savings in retirement than people who are single, according to a study from economists James Poterba, David Wise and Steven Venti, in 2012. For example, of those in the 90th percentile of wealth between the ages 65 to 69, two-person households had $878,000 in assets, versus $380,000 for those in the same demographic who are single.
“I got myself into this debt, and I’ll get myself out of it,” said a 40-year-old blogger who uses the pseudonym Denise while writing on her blog, Double Debt, Single Woman. “But it would be great to have the support, even just emotional support.”
Here are a few times it pays to be single, and when it pays to be married:
Married men spend more hours at work
Men are more motivated to work longer hours and are less likely to quit a job without a new job lined up if they are married, said Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist and the author of several reports on marriage. “Marriage provides a kind of motivation and institutional status that tends to help men,” he said.
Married men spend more hours at work than their single counterparts, whereas married women spend fewer hours at work than single women do. Married men between the ages of 28 and 30 work 441 more paid hours a year than their single peers; married men between 44 and 46 work 403 more hours a year than single men.
Married women between 28 and 30 work 196 fewer paid hours than their single peers; married women between 44 and 46 work 131 fewer hours a year than single women, according to a report from the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
Women still do more housework than men
Although men today do more housework than in previous years, women still spend one hour and 31 minutes on average a day doing housework, compared with one hour and 20 minutes for men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey. Women also spend 32 minutes a day on average caring for and helping a child, compared with 16 minutes for men (not including pregnancy).
Employed married women spend almost twice as much time on housework and child care as married men do — 2.6 hours each day to 1.4 for men. Married men made more than their single peers, according to AEI’s report, with young married men making nearly $16,000 more a year than single men. Young married women made $1,349 less than their single peers.
Some employers treat married men more favorably
Of course, the higher income isn’t necessarily the direct result of the marriage for men; those with higher incomes might make the decision to get married, whereas those with lower incomes might find it harder to date or find a partner, or may put off marriage until their financial situations are better.
But Wilcox said there’s a “marriage premium” that benefits men, even when controlling for those factors and comparing those from similar demographic backgrounds. “Employers are more likely to treat married fathers favorably,” he said. “That’s not legal, but it’s the implicit cultural practice.”
Men are perceived as more “suitable for employment” after they get married, whereas women are perceived as less suitable, according to researchers from Cornell and Stanford in 2012. The expectation that married women could become mothers may create a bias against them, the authors of the report wrote.
Delaying marriage actually helps women’s earnings
College-educated women who waited to get married until they were 30 or older made more annually than women who got married younger — about $10,000 more a year than those who got married at ages 24 to 26, according to an analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008 to 2010 American Community Survey by University of Virginia researchers. (The authors said they controlled for factors besides age and attributed the difference to delayed motherhood and “greater career focus.”)
Of course, having children can dramatically change a single person or couple’s financial future. The cost of raising one child in the U.S. is approximately $245,340.
Living with a partner can save you thousands of dollars a year
Living with a partner could save thousands of dollars a year — even more so than having roommates, considering sharing a studio or one-bedroom apartment would be tight quarters for two people who aren’t romantically involved.
Now, one quarter of never-married Americans ages 25 to 34 live with a partner, according to Pew Research Center. This shift has challenged “the whole idea of the nuclear family unit being the main unit of society,” said Moira Weigel, a Yale University Ph.D. candidate and author of the 2016 book “Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating.”
Co-habitating not only saves couples money on rent but allows them to save on daily expenses, such as sharing groceries and household responsibilities, said Rachel Podnos, a financial adviser based in Washington, D.C. For those reasons, dual-income households with no children tend to be able to save more than single people living alone, Podnos said.
“If I were to get married, it would be because of how much money it would save me in housing,” said Marina Adshade, a professor of economics at the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia and author of the book “Dollars and Sex: How Economics Influences Sex and Love”
While it’s possible to purchase a house with someone who isn’t a spouse, Adshade said few single people would likely want that commitment to someone they have no legal tie to. “You have to really love one of your friends to buy a house with them,” she said.
“I’m not going to buy anything until I have someone I can buy with,” said personal-finance blogger Cait Flanders, 31, who lives outside Vancouver.
Dating costs hundreds of dollars — and weddings costs thousands
Dating is expensive. This 26-year-old New York male broke out his dating budget on Refinery29. He spent $771 on 14 dates in a single month. Date No. 1: wine bar ($91). Date No. 2: bar ($40). Date No. 3: dinner and drinks ($70), Date No. 4: ingredients for dinner at home ($40). And that was just the first week.
For single people who have low incomes, the time and money involved in dating can be a huge hurdle toward eventually getting married, Weigel said. And for those who can afford to date, there are numerous costs in addition to the time it takes to find a partner. “In a way, it’s the most ingenious commercial invention ever, to make the basic human desires for sex and affection engines of the consumer economy,” Weigel said.
From the cost of dating apps and websites to the cost of dates, to personal maintenance including fitness and beauty, the desire to partner up supports multiple industries, she said.
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There can be an emotional cost to being single, too, said Bella DePaulo, a social psychologist and the author of several books, including “Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After.” She believes popular culture has an over-the-top obsession with celebrating marriage, weddings and proposals, a phenomenon she calls “matrimania,” while sending a message to single people that there’s something wrong with them.
“The looks of pity when you say you’re not married, the lists of ‘why, you’re single,’ it’s all basically saying to single people, ‘You’re lesser than, and married people are better than you,’” she said. “The assumption is that what you want more than anything else is to become unsingle.”
Of course, the amount many couples choose to spend on weddings offsets some of those dating costs single people face. The average cost of a wedding is more than $31,000, according to a survey of more than 16,000 brides who use the wedding website The Knot, in 2014. (Other data on people who don’t use wedding planning websites put the cost at half that amount.) Those who responded to the survey said $5,855 of that total was spent on the engagement ring.
Employment and tax benefits of being hitched
Perhaps one of the most significant benefits to marriage is the employer and government benefits only married people can receive. Spouses can qualify for the other’s Social Security benefits, contribute to their IRA even when an individual has no taxable compensation, can inherit an estate with no tax penalty (for estates up to nearly $11 million in assets) and can take advantage of a spouse’s health benefits.
Depending on each spouse’s income, married couples may also receive a tax benefit when filing taxes jointly, said Mark Steber, the chief tax officer at Jackson Hewitt, a tax-preparation company based in New Jersey. (He noted that combining incomes could also mean moving into a higher tax bracket, which wouldn’t be beneficial).
Plus, according to the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees of public agencies, schools and at companies of 50 or more people are allowed to take 12 work weeks off to care for a spouse, child or parent, but single people can’t take that time for those they are close to but not related to; and if a single person is to become ill, it may be harder for someone else in their life to take time off to care for them, DePaulo said.
Married couples may also be able to support one another when one person is temporarily out of work, or one spouse wants to take a lower-paying or riskier job, DePaulo said. On the other hand, single people may be more free to make decisions about their careers without having to worry about the way it would impact others. DePaulo said she was able to move across the country and change the focus of her research without having to worry about uprooting a family, she said.
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“I’m more responsible and independent with my own finances,” said Denise, the single-named (and single) blogger. “I’m learning the skills I need so I’m leading the life I want, and I’m not dependent on someone else.”
Of course, marriage isn’t so great if you have an acrimonious breakup. “If you think paying taxes is bad, think about paying taxes and writing a check to your ex-spouse,” Podnos said. Maybe the single life, she said, isn’t so bad after all.