Onely’s Adventures in Accounting: The Math of Marital Status Discrimination September 22, 2012Posted by Onely in As If!, Heteronormativity, Your Responses Requested!.
Tags: amatonormative, marital privilege, singles blog, singlism, unmarried discrimination, us government discrimination
Phew, pant pant pant. We at Onely almost missed National Unmarried and Single Americans Week! (Lisa says it’s because she was too busy having fun as a single person.) And indeed, lately there have been a ton of articles (“All the Single Ladies,” “A Confederacy of Bachelors”) in big media about how single people are happy being single (gasp!). Which is good.
But it’s not enough to celebrate social aspects of being single. These articles about the Rise of Satisfied Singles, while important, don’t address the underlying problem of how our society views singles:
Discrimination against unmarried people is institutionalized in government laws (and by corporate policies, which follow the government’s lead).
Take, for example, the unmarried Canadian soldier killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. If he had been married, his spouse would have gotten Death Benefits of $250,000. But because he had no spouse, that $250,000 remained in government coffers to be given to a married person. His and other parents challenged this practice, protesting that in the absence of a spouse, the money could just as easily be allocated to them.
Do you think these parents are
B) Hmmm, what an interesting idea;
C) OMG HOW SELFISH?
If you answered A, then you understand why we at Onely believe marriage as a legal institution is overvalued and oversanctified. If you answered C, then you’d better stop reading now. We are going to prod at your stale paradigms – with the sword of mathematics. En guard!
We’ve never done the math of Marital Privilege. No one has. Until now.
But first, some background: We’ve railed against Marital Privilege both on this blog and on Psychology Today, Professor, What If, Change.org, and other venues. We use the term Marital Privilege to represent the institutionalized discrimination that governments levy against unmarried people. Because this problem had no name, we at Onely had to appropriate the term Marital Privilege. It originally referred to the U.S. law that says spouses cannot be forced to testify against each other in court. This is just one of over 1,000 U.S. federal laws that provide married couples with financial and legal benefits, some quite bizarre, that single people don’t receive. Moreover, often unmarrieds end up subsidizing the marrieds.
But just how much do these federal policies cost an unmarried person, from birth to death? Lisa and I wondered. We tried to find the answer in a famous web search engine. We realized no one has ever answered this question. We realized we would have to. . .gasp. . . figure it out ourselves. And so we did.
We were so shocked we considered going out and finding husbands, any old husbands.
Copious Readers, in the time-honored tradition of jelly bean jars, we challenge you to guess how much more money a hypothetical single woman living in Virginia and making $80,000/year would likely spend over her lifetime, compared to her married peer.
Our calculations addressed disparities in Social Security, income tax laws, health insurance policies, and more. Remember that we are not a team of accountants, but only two people. So we had to make a certain number of controlled simplifications. For example, we only created female characters, even though single men face much of the same discrimination. In addition, our characters received no raises in their entire lives, which made things hard on them but easier on us. Nonetheless, our resulting figures were accurate and representative of the level of discrimination against unmarried people.
So – how much more did our single woman pay than our married woman?
We will reveal the answer at a later date. Our reader whose guess is closest will be invited to write a guest post on Onely describing how one or more of these discriminatory laws has impacted his or her life.
–Christina and Lisa
Photo credit: ott1mo