Reporter's Notebook

Why Should Married People Get Extra Support?
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Readers debate the question and related ones. Join them via

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Why Aren't There Gifts for Being Single?

A reader, Brandon, takes the bait from this one, who said that “single people are basically freeloaders”:

Your reader’s comment and your call for responses made me actually laugh out loud, so nice work there. As to his point: I’m 32 and have never been married. I’ve been engaged, but I walked away after realizing marriage and children with my partner at the time would have been a terrible decision for both of us.

In my experience, two groups of people generally get married young or at all (this is more than a binary comparison, but for the sake of this email, two choices makes the point): 1. People who have met the right partner and should get married, and 2. People who need to get married because other people are doing it. Those in group 1 don’t have the insecurities of those in group 2, and rarely if ever make such freeloader comments.

To this reader, on behalf of the single people who financed his wedding, baby shower, housewarming, and—pick an event for married people that has no single people equivalent—you’re welcome. (And yes, this idea came from Sex & the City.)

That linked video is unembeddable, but here’s the money quote:

I did a little mental addition, and over the years I have bought Kiera an engagement gift, a wedding gift, the trip to Maine for the wedding, three baby gifts—in toto, I have spent over $2300 celebrating her choices. […] And if I don’t ever get married, or have a baby, what—I get bupkis?

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.

This morning we heard from several readers, including the family scholar Bradford Wilcox, about the data correlations between marriage and poverty. Now a few readers start moving the conversation past the numbers. Here’s Michael Brewer:

Statistical correlations between marriage and poverty are important and interesting, but alone I don’t think they can serve as a basis for family or state policy. “How do I increase my income and lower my tax burden?” is a simple question of economics, easily answered with available data. And it’s a red herring. When I hear some new argument about how marriage will improve my finances, it doesn’t make me want to get married; it makes me wonder why single people like me aren’t worth a tax break, or aren’t as respected by employers. The system favors nuclear families because that’s how it was built. These are not laws of nature.

The economics and statistics are just data, not answers. The real debate should be about ethics and justice.

As a single guy in my early 30s who doesn’t want to get married any time soon, if at all, I’ve often wondered why the tax code should so heavily favor married couples when the simple act of cohabitation already has so many financial advantages. If you’re unmarried and feel the same way and want to rant about it, drop me an email. Here’s another reader who questions the centrality of marriage in modern life:

As a single woman who has no particular desire for dating or marriage (if I meet someone and it happens, great, but I can’t see making it a goal for myself when much of it is out of my control), I was really interested by the reader who said that one advantage of marriage is that “when disaster strikes, and you are alone, it really is a disaster.”

This is true; being alone does make it harder to deal with the storms of life. But why is marriage, a specific romantic relationship between two people, the only way to deal with this?