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What if Married People Were Treated Like Singles? August 30, 2009

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought.
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A previous version of this post originally ran on the excellent site Professor What If (PWI).  The Professor is now writing a different (but equally thought-provoking) blog analyzing the Twilight cultural phenomenon from a feminist perspective.  Check it out! You don’t have to be a Twilight fan to understand and enjoy it. And now, back to the music:

Lisa and Christina both identify as white, middle-class, heterosexual women who don’t mind being single. We’re tired of cultural stereotypes that suggest we’re not supposed to be happy with our “relationship status”. Really the only thing we’re unhappy about is that we don’t have all the same rights as married couples.  This discrimination is just plain silly when you consider that in the U.S., a majority of households are now headed by unmarried people

Therefore, below we’ve asked (and answered) a few “what if” questions to highlight the material, social, and legal restrictions habitually placed on adult singles, more often than not in favor of those who are married.

Note: We define “single” as anyone who is unmarried, including: coupled-but-not-married and domestic partners; anyone who identifies as GLBT and are either legally unable to marry or refuse the institution of marriage altogether; those who identify as polyamorous or asexual; divorcees and widowers; single parents; and, of course, anyone else who is just plain single. (When we refer to the social [as opposed to legal] stigmatization of singles below, we’re referring more specifically to anyone who is uncoupled.) And with all that said, now back to the music: 

What if married people were treated by the media, friends, and family like singles (in this case, uncoupled singles)? They would encounter statements such as:

  • “Don’t worry, you’ll get a divorce someday!”
  • “Oh, you’re married? I’m so sorry!”
  • “You’re so great – how come you’re still married?”
  • “It’s okay to be married for a while, but eventually you need to grow up and become single.”
  • “You’re so lucky to be married and not have as much responsibility.”
  • “But don’t you feel bad not having a life, seeing as you’re married?”
  • “When are you going to get a divorce?”
  • “It’s so sad having to come home to a house with someone in it all the time.”
  • “Well, I would’ve invited you to book group, except you’re married and I thought you wouldn’t want to be around all those happily single people.”
  • “What’s a beautiful woman like you doing married?”

What if married people were treated by the government as singles? They would have to:

  • Fight to be recognized as a legitimate and powerful voting bloc, no matter how much of the American population they represent.
  • Lose the 1,138 federal provisions that currently accommodate married people on account of their marital status in the distribution of rights, benefits, and other legal privileges.
  • Come to work even if their spouses, children, or parents are sick and in need of their help. After all, they don’t get to take advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act.
  • Leave medical decisions for their loved ones to doctors and immediate family not related to the able spouse.
  • Live in the barracks like every other soldier.
  • Give up that extra cash-per-month and increased housing allowance that the military currently grants married soldiers.
  • Testify against their spouses in court instead of being granted immunity.

What if married people were taxed like singles? They would have to:

  • File individual returns only and never gain a tax “bonus” for filing jointly with a spouse.
  • Pay income tax on their spouses’ employment benefits.
  • Give up as much as 60% of their assets to the government in death taxes.
  • Lose all social security benefits when they die.
  • Give up benefits for those children living in the household who do not meet the criteria for a “qualifying dependent,” or those children who are not related to their caregivers by blood or marriage.

What if married people were paid and treated in the workplace like singles? They would:

  • Make, on average, 26% less than they currently do; they would be paid the same as everyone else regardless of their marital status.
  • Not be able to negotiate salaries and other work-related perks using marital status as a factor.
  • Be expected to stay late and work during the holidays, just like everyone else.
  • Have to give up vacation privileges (or implied benefits that assume that single people are not as invested in their families and personal lives as married people must be) 
  • Have to pay for expenses related to whole-family relocations due to work.
  • Encounter no support from employers in helping spouses find jobs.

What if married people had access to the same health and other insurance policies as singles? They would:

  • Be unable to add anyone, even spouses, to their employer-provided health care plans.
  • Have considerable trouble paying for independent health insurance, especially if the married people work part-time or if they freelance.
  • Have to decide between buying a high-deductible, bare-bones health plan and no plan at all because they can’t depend on their spouses to help them afford the low-deductible, full-coverage model.
  • Pay more for car insurance, especially if the married couple is young.
  • Have access to only limited options when it comes to life insurance; there’s only one or two plans in which married people can invest through any given company, whereas singles get many options.

What if married people were treated like singles in the marketplace? They would have to:

  • Convince real estate agents to sell to them by promising to pay on time, not relocate, and generally be financially responsible.
  • Also have to convince real estate agents that they really do want to look at the spacious house with the view, instead of the tight quarters that real estate agents insist would “be just right” for the married people and their families.
  • Pay more for travel packages so that single people could receive single-traveler discounts.
  • Pay more than singles for club and gym memberships, so that singles could reap the benefits.
  • Purchase single-serving sizes of food at the grocery store in order to receive a decent discount.
  • Dine alone so as to get the better deal at restaurants (especially large chains that cater to the singles population, like Applebee’s and TGI Friday’s).

(Many thanks to the following blogs and resources for providing much of the above information: see the Alternatives to Marriage Project; Bella DePaulo’s Living Single BlogRachel’s MusingsNational Singles AssociationAmerican Association for Single PeopleReuters and U.S. Census Bureau; and Cracked.com


1. Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles - September 1, 2009

Excellent reminders that can’t be repeated enough! Thank you so much for putting this together!

2. Jennifer Broadley - September 12, 2009

I am also a single parent having a 7 year daughter.I Like the post and I would like to share some dynamic information and support on how to be a winning single parent with strong, respectful relationships with your children and a comfortable, working relationship with your ex-partner.

Onely - September 12, 2009

Hi Jennifer,
We would love to hear more from you! Lisa and I are child-free/unchilded (whatever), so we like to hear from single people in different circumstances from ourselves.

3. RachelA. - May 16, 2010

Um, I was really interested in that blog about Twilight from a feminist perspective but the link is broken. I tried going to her other blog looking for a link to it there, but I couldn’t find it. Any chance you still know where it is?

4. noxweb.bplaced.net - September 15, 2014

Howdy! I’m at work surfing around your blog from my new iphone 4!
Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all
your posts! Keep up the fantastic work!

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