|In a special report published on
its website last week, Forbes.com 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
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
"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
"Unmarried America" published in October 2003.
A sidebar to the BusinessWeek
"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
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
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
* 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
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 Forbes.com 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
firstname.lastname@example.org. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and