21 Ways Single People Are Taxed More, and Not Just Financially

Bella DePaulo
6 min readAug 28, 2020

When single people pay more than married people do, either financially or emotionally, they are subsidizing married people.

Americans become especially attuned to fairness in taxation when April 15 rolls around, but for people who are single, every day is tax day. Here are just some of the ways in which every day is tax day if you are single.

  1. When you are single, every day is the day when you pay more in income taxes than married people do.

I know you think that there is a marriage penalty in income taxes, but in fact, it is solo single people who are penalized. That’s what I concluded when I wrote Singled Out. (I also wrote about it here). I was even more sure when a few years later, Lily Kahng, an attorney who had worked in the tax office of the Department of the Treasury, came to the same conclusion:

“There is never a single person’s bonus — that is, a single person never pays less relative to a couple, whether married or unmarried, with the same amount of income as the single person (p. 660).”

If you want to know why you were so sure there is a marriage penalty, read Kahng’s law review article or my briefer discussion of it.

2. 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.

Your Social Security benefits go back into the system when you die; 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.

3. 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.

IRAs are better in some ways than Social Security with regard to treatment of single people, but as Lisa Arnold and Christina Campbell pointed out in their important article in the Atlantic, there are still some special

Bella DePaulo

“America’s foremost thinker and writer on the single experience,” according to the Atlantic. SINGLE AT HEART book coming on Dec 5, 2023. www.belladepaulo.com