The wealth gap between young married couples and their single counterparts has more than doubled since 2010.
“The median net worth of married couples 25 to 34 years old was nearly nine times as much as the median net worth of single households in 2019,” reports The Wall Street Journal.
While those of us living in partnership might know some of the financial benefits we enjoy – splitting the bills, being able to access one another’s benefits like health insurance, having an additional income stream or just an extra set of hands to help out – the scale of the wealth disparity between singles and their coupled counterparts can still feel shocking.
While we might expect married couples to have double the wealth of their single counterparts given that a marriage has two people in it, and we might anticipate marital wealth getting an extra boost given that life is typically more expensive for couples, but not doubly so – the fact that the wealth of young married couples is nearly nine times that of single households just goes to show how much these disparities in both financial obligations and financial opportunities can add up.
“Whenever we talk about the difficulty of being single in America, it’s part of this larger web of difficulties of being a person in America.
It’s just that all of those things compound when you don’t have the benefit of a partner,” says Anne Helen Petersen, the writer behind the “Culture Study” newsletter, in our conversation on the latest episode of the “Money Confidential” podcast: “It’s Expensive Being Single. How Can I Manage The Rising Costs?”
“This is the way that generational wealth is created, not just through huge cushions of money that are passed down. It’s through the ability to focus on more than just working yourself out of debt. Some of it’s the actual financial safety net and some of it is the mental safety net. So many people I interviewed about the difficulties of being single were like, “Yeah, it sucks that I don’t have two incomes contributing to an emergency fund, but I also have the problem of when the water heater breaks, I am the only person who is responsible for figuring out how to get it fixed.” And that takes a real-time tax that is harder to measure, but is very, very real. It’s also just exhausting. When people talk about burnout, a lot of it is just that weight of being the only person. You’re the only stopgap. That’s financially. And that’s life stuff too,” says Petersen.
Beyond these differences in expenses, incomes and bandwidth, we also talked about how additional financial benefits for partners have become enshrined in policy, like Social Security, and how stigmatization and biases against singles have a direct impact on their capacity to build wealth (you can listen to our conversation in full here).
But before my conversation with Anne Helen, I spoke to a single, 32-year-old woman from Iowa I’m calling “Dawn” (a pseudonym to protect her identity), to better understand what these financial disparities look and feel like in her own life. Here’s a brief excerpt from our conversation:
“I think singlehood is seen as a temporary state. Like the default is that you end up partnered. And for me, I think it probably will be my long-term state. Which is not to say I’m going to be miserable and alone. I enjoy being alone. Society as a whole is just kind of like, “Oh, well, you’ll get over that. You’ll change your mind about that.” And I’m just kind of like, “Okay, but if I don’t, this is the reality I’m working with.
I think that is part of the reason that I didn’t get serious about money earlier. I drank the Kool-Aid of “singlehood is temporary” and someday I’ll end up married and then we’ll own a home.
It feels like overnight I’m 32 and still single, going, “Oh, if this is going to happen, I’m going to have to do it by myself it looks like. I wish I had accepted that 10 years ago because I could have put myself in a better position to do it by myself right now.
I would say my parents still haven’t fully accepted that I’m probably going to be single for the foreseeable future. Like going out and getting myself hitched is not high on my priority list, even though it would be nice for the financial benefits. And so I think when they’re telling me these things like, “You should buy a house. You should blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” They’re doing it from their perspective where, by my age, they were married and I was born and they had bought a house. And they don’t realize it’s much different when you’re just on your own. Not even just financially, just the amount of work.”
Of the many things that stayed with me after my conversation with Dawn, one of the biggest was this idea that, on top of the additional financial and lifestyle challenges of single living, there is a very real and sometimes painful disconnect with the people in partnership around you.
Even if, like me, you’re intimately familiar with some of the financial challenges of being single from your past experience, it’s another thing to fully understand those realities and implications in any given moment. So I wanted to offer that opportunity to our single readers here at “Too Ambitious”, and share some what they had to say, so that we can all improve our understanding, and hopefully, our support:
To see more responses, check out the full twitter thread here.
And to hear more of my conversations with both Dawn and Anne Helen Petersen about the rising costs of being single in America, tune into this episode of the “Money Confidential” podcast.
If you enjoyed this conversation, you might also like these reads/ listens:
Remember to join us for more conversations like this one by subscribing to “Too Ambitious” (if you haven’t already) and if you know someone who can relate, please share.
Image: Sharon Pruitt / EyeEm via GettyImages