Why Should Married Soldiers Get Extra Support?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader addresses our question through the lens of the military:

I have always wondered why a marriage saves you money but never really cared about it until I joined the Army. Then I got angry.

By age 26, I had been through college and was responsible for calling in airstrikes. However, as a SINGLE soldier, I had to live in a barracks with 18- and 19-year-old kids. A barracks is equivalent to a college dorm except you are stuck on a military post. If you are a married soldier, you receive a tax-free housing allowance, a tax-free food allowance, and extra pay when deployed. You can move off post and rent or buy a house.

So, as a 26-year-old sergeant, I was technically making less than a married 18-year-old private. Even more frustrating is to hear married folk complain about their finances or having to fix their house that they just bought since their housing allowance can cover a mortgage.

To further add salt to my wound, a married soldier with the same rank as me STILL makes more. If married, your housing and food allowance is slightly increased over a single soldier’s pay. Not to mention a break on your taxes.

While in the military, marriage is placed on a pedestal.

Pre deployment you have to attend meetings that inform wives on the upcoming deployment … even if you’re single. Oh and the military considers you “single” so long as you’re not married. Dating or engaged isn’t recognized, nor is cohabitating with a girlfriend or boyfriend. Additionally you also get the smart-ass comment from married soldiers on how easy single life is compared to theirs (although I’m sure that happens at civilian jobs as well)

However, there is a silver lining to this, in my opinion. I am generally more financially secure and happier than my married colleagues. Now that I’m a staff sergeant, I can live off post and receive a housing allowance but I don’t pay rent while deployed. I actually only have a phone bill and a car payment to worry about. I don’t have children and I don’t have a spouse who, since he or she is married to a soldier, statistically makes less than someone married to a civilian.

I also don’t have to deal with the strain a deployment puts on marriages and families. I only have to worry about my situation, not my wife’s or my children’s. I don’t have to worry about a Dear John letter or find out that my wife is leaving me for someone else while I’m on the other side of the world.

I’ve come to realize that being single is financially unfair but emotionally better for me as a solider. I’m way more happy with the single life in the military than I would be married. I do wish that I was financially equal to my married counterparts, but I’ve come to see that what society views as the benefit to marriage isn’t a benefit to me.

I do have a girlfriend at the moment, and we’ve already talked about why marriage doesn’t need to happen for us to be happy. We don’t need a piece of paper and a tax break to reinforce our relationship as valid and enduring.

Thanks for the rant.

Another reader is likely to solicit more rants with this rhetorical bomb:

Society puts a premium on being married because society and civilizations future depends entirely on raising stable healthy kids, and marriage (same sex included) is the best social institution in which to raise kids. Single people are basically freeloaders, since they will inevitably depend on the support of younger generations that they didn’t provide for or help raise.

Freeloaders can respond via hello@theatlantic.com. Update from one of many readers already responding:

I had to deal with this as well, since others are being compensated for a life choice that is outside of their job duties. As for your reader who said they are freeloaders, I paid SS tax just like everyone else, and the idea that having a job but no kids when you are 22 means you won’t ever have kids and thus deserve less pay for equal work is insane. I’m 34, and I’m having kids in a year. This does not mean my quality of life as a soldier when I was 25 should be negativity impacted.

An unrelated issue which also concerns me is your lack of a comment section in Notes. This disturbing trend came about as a way to not require comment moderation, but when sites like The Atlantic do it, you provide cover for less scrupulous sites to do the same—and the result is that the Internet becomes like what it replaced: TV.  It becomes one way and non interactive; it becomes a radio tower blaring out propaganda with no ability for citizens to challenge the information being put forth, and this is a very bad thing for humanity. Half the planet hasn’t even gotten online yet, and before they do, the version of it that they become familiar with will be a lesser version than the original one. I shouldn’t have to mother-may-I just to make a comment.

Update from another reader, who gives the other side of the “comments or no comments” debate (something we perennially debated for years at The Dish, and our readers repeatedly voted down the idea of a comments section):

For the person who thinks Notes needs a comments section: All I have to do is turn to The Atlantic’s articles that have comments sections and say no, no, no. The idea in Notes of inviting and moderating comments on particular issues is about promoting intelligent discussion while the open comments sections inevitably devolve into shout-fests.

I want to read intelligent discussion. I do not want to wade through pages of nonsense to find a few reasonable thoughts on a topic. I believe strongly that there are plenty of people out there who can enliven a discussion and bring new thoughts to the table.

I’m one of those people who loved Coates’s comments sections. I also know that moderating a discussion section is hard, hard work and, when much of the discussion deals with race, it’s got to be terribly depressing. Unfortunately, unmoderated or barely moderated comments sections are places where people vent, not places where people can read and discuss and learn.

I love the way the Notes section brings in discussion to the old pre-internet, read-and-learn model. Keep it up.