Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

July 31,  2006  



Forbes distorts cost of married vs. single living

By Thomas F. Coleman

In a special report published on its website last week, took a stab at assessing "The Cost of Being Married Versus Being Single."  The report was released in conjunction with the 2006 Forbes list of what it considers to be the "Best Cities for Singles" in the United States.

The report is very disappointing in many significant respects. 

Its title is misleading.  From the way the report is labeled, a reader would expect its content to be rather comprehensive, reviewing the cost of living and wages of single people and married couples in various income brackets and stages of life.  That does not happen.

The report uses only three examples for its financial comparisons:  a single person earning $100,000 per year, a married couple with $170,000 in household income, and a married couple with five children who have annual earnings of $500,000.  Since only a small minority of workers earn that type of money per year, the Forbes report fails to address the financial situation of the overwhelming majority Americans, whether single or married.

The report boldly concludes that on a month-to-month basis, "marriage just doesn't pay." Says who?

 "There's no doubt singles who make an effort to do financially prudent things--buying homes and opening up retirement accounts early--wind up better off than their married friends," it adds.  Call me a "doubting Thomas" on this undocumented assertion.

I suggest that the author of this special report, and the Forbes editorial staff, more thoroughly educate themselves about many of the financial advantages of married couples and disadvantages of single people.  They could start by reading a comprehensive BusinessWeek cover story entitled "Unmarried America" published in October 2003.

A sidebar to the BusinessWeek story, entitled "The Unmarried Penalty" describes how "86 million adults in Unmarried America -- making up about half of all households, 42 percent of employees, and 35 percent of voters -- face big 'unmarried' disadvantages," such as: fewer job benefits, higher unemployment, lower pay, higher taxes, lower social security and unemployment benefits, fewer estate tax breaks, and higher auto insurance rates. 

The narrow and shallow approach taken by the author of the Forbes report is inexcusable considering that he was given full access to the website of Unmarried America, an information service for unmarried and single Americans.  He was specifically directed to information about financial disadvantages experienced by unmarried Americans as workers, consumers, and taxpayers.  Unfortunately, none of this information was referenced in the Forbes report.

Had the Forbes writers and editors done their homework, they should have noted a few other financial disadvantages faced by single people:

* The majority of minimum-wage workers are single;
* Millions of unmarried women over 65 are struggling to survive on social security payments as their only source of income; and
* A single person forfeits social security benefits, and in some plans also forfeits pension benefits, when he or she dies, while a married person can leave those benefits to a surviving spouse.

Another shortcoming of the Forbes report is the fact that it also fails to mention the financial hardships and decrease in standard of living experienced by most of the 22 million people who are now single due to a divorce.  A recent study in the Journal of Sociology reported that divorce reduces a person's wealth by about 75 percent.

Finally, I invite the editorial staff at to take a look at the most recent annual demographics from the Census Bureau. (Current Population Survey: 2004 Annual and Social Economic Supplement.)  It shows fewer than 8 million (out of a total of 214 million adults in the United States) earned $100,000 or more in 2004.  That includes 5 million married men and 1 million married women in addition to 900,000 unmarried men and and 500,000 unmarried women. 

If Forbes ever does another report on the cost of being married versus single in America, its editors should insist that more income levels should be compared so that the report more fairly represents all Americans, whether low income, middle income, or high income adults.  Otherwise, if the methodology of the current report is repeated, the title should be changed to "The Cost of Being Married and Rich Versus Single and Rich."

Unmarried America 2006

Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.  Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried America. E-mail: Unmarried America is a nonprofit information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and voters.