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Being Single. Paying Double.
I’m heading to the US for a month-long working holiday soon. You’d think that after almost 3 years of no international travel I’d be excited about planning my itinerary. And I have been. Mostly.
But I’ve also been a bit stressed. Stressed by trying to create an itinerary that takes into account all the moving parts. Stressed by all the options and possibilities. Stressed by making decisions and then circumstances changing and new decisions needing to be made. Stressed by doing all of this alone. And stressed by how much all of this is costing someone who has not had a regular or stable income for over 7 years (#phdlyf + #publictheologianlyf + #tentmakingministrylyf).
I don’t really resent that this trip is going to cost me a lot of cashola. Indeed, I’m thankful to be able to afford it! (Just.) But I am struggling to not resent the ways in which I am financially penalised when travelling for being single rather than married/partnered.
The most obvious example of this is hotel accommodation. I’ve spent many hours looking at all my accommodation options in every place I’m visiting. I’ve had to develop an intricate subjective formula that weighs up cost vs location vs safety. I’ve now finally started booking my hotels. But as I’ve done so, I’ve found myself having to pray. Not so much because I’m stressed about the cost itself (though I am), but because right through this booking process I’ve been feeling resentful. I’ve been resentful that in order to sleep in one bed in one room I—a single person travelling alone—am required to pay the same amount of money as two people would together. I’ve been feeling resentful that because I’m single, I’m paying double.
In my fantasy world, hotels would charge single occupancy rates for rooms with one bed, and then they’d charge a surplus fee for an additional occupant. In my fantasy world, I wouldn’t effectively be subsidising couples’ accommodation.
But I also know that will only ever be a fantasy world. From the hotel’s perspective, it doesn’t really make a difference if there are one or two people in their rooms. The most it is going to cost them is a little more water usage, right? They just want the price of the space to be covered. And of course, the additional occupant surplus would never be an effective solution because people would just lie and say there was only one of them staying in the room. It’s all just fantasy.
Except not for me. For me, it’s a reality that to stay in safe, secure, conveniently located hotel accommodation I effectively pay double because I’m single. I’ve really been struggling with that.
If you are not single, I wonder if you’ve ever stopped to consider some of the financial disadvantages and challenges facing those of us who are?
Yes, yes. I know that being married has its own costs. And I especially know that raising kids is a very costly endeavour. But my point in asking that question is not to compare, contrast and see who has it worse. Rather, I just wonder if you’ve ever stopped to consider the ways in which being single can come at high price?
The High Cost of Being Single
In a 2013 Atlantic article, two authors set out to do a comprehensive analysis of the lifetime cost of being single (as compared to being married).
“So, blissfully unaware of the morass of math awaiting us, we created four characters living in Virginia: two single women and two married women of equivalent means. The single women made $40,000 and $80,000, as did their married counterparts. The two salaries represent relatively middle and high-income levels in Virginia, where 2011 per capita income was $44,700 statewide. “
Here are just some of their findings (keep in mind these figures are over a decade old now and are US based).
Pssssst: If you aren’t interested in all these figures (and I don’t blame you!) then just scroll down to the heading “So… what?”.
“In 2010, our single woman earning $40,000 paid $6,181. Her married peer paid more than a thousand dollars less: $5,162. The contrast became more dramatic as our subjects' incomes increased: our single woman earning $80,000 paid $16,125, whereas her married counterpart paid almost four thousand dollars less per year.
[Over a forty year period] Our single woman earning $40,000 per year paid $245,000 in income taxes. Our married woman earning $40,000 paid $206,000 in income taxes—a difference of $39,000. Our single woman earning $80,000 per year paid $645,000 in income taxes. Our married woman earning $80,000 paid $490,000 in income taxes—a difference of $155,000.”
LIFETIME SPENDING ON HEALTHCARE
“Our single woman with an income of $40,000 spent $189,600 on health over 60 years; whereas our married woman with the same income spent $165,600—a difference of $24,000.
Our married woman with an income of $80,000 spent $331,200 on health over 60 years, and our unmarried woman with the same income spent $379,200—a difference of $48,000.”
LIFETIME SPENDING ON HOUSING
“Our single woman making $40,000 spent $955,200 on housing over 60 years, whereas our married woman making $40,000 spent only $573,600. The married woman saves $381,600 in comparison to her unmarried equivalent.
Our single woman making $80,000 spent $1,910,400 on housing over 60 years, whereas our married woman making $80,000 spent only $1,147,200- that's a difference of $763,200.”
“When we calculated how much money our characters gained or lost altogether, our single women did indeed fare worse—much worse—than the married women. Their lifetime cost of being single?
Our lower-earning woman paid $484,368 for being single. Our higher-earning woman paid $1,022,096: more than a million dollars just for being single.”
Well, OK. That’s all very theoretically interesting. Being single puts you at a significant financial disadvantage across your lifetime. So, what? After all, being married puts you at a different financial disadvantage. Being a parent puts you at an even greater financial disadvantage!
What’s the point of all this then?
Well, again, my point isn’t for us to compare, contrast and work out who has a harder life. This isn’t a competition. It’s not a zero sum game. The goal isn’t to determine who “passes go” with the most or the least amount of money in their hand.
Rather, my point in writing this piece is to simply raise an issue that is rarely even acknowledged, let alone addressed or responded to in our churches. There is not only a high cost to being single, but oftentimes that cost feels… well, I’ll just say it. It can feel unfair.
Now, just because something feels unfair doesn’t mean it is. And even if it is genuinely unfair, the godly response is not one of resentment and bitterness (hence my earlier comment about having spent time praying for the state of my heart during my own trip planning. I’d love you to join me in those prayers). On many occasions, bearing an “unfair” cost can be a way of loving and serving others.
But regardless of whether such a high cost is truly fair or unfair, I can guarantee that you simply recognising this reality of the single life—and importantly, letting your single brothers and sisters in Christ know that you recognise this reality—will be very significant to them. Feeling seen is important to us. Knowing that others are aware of some of the unique complexities of our lives is important to us. Not automatically caricaturing us as living a laissez-faire, carefree, hedonistic, entitled and wealthy life is important to us.
Writing about the financial costs of being single feels a little like a self-serving exercise in mundanity. But in reality, this post isn’t about dollars and cents. It’s about love.
You can love your single Christian brothers and sisters by being willing to better understand some of the burdens we bear (often alone), the challenges we face (often alone) and the complexities we navigate (often alone). You can love us by reminding us that even though we might feel alone in these things, actually… we aren’t.
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