The Guardian – 5th September 2018
Ordinarily, we like to scare the bejesus out of our youth, in the hope they’ll turn out even more boring and compliant than we are. (“Sex’ll give you gonorrhoea. Drugs’ll kill you. Rock’n’roll died with Amy Winehouse – here’s Ed Sheeran!”) And there’s another kind of aberrant behaviour that society wants to prevent. Kids be warned – we’ve made singledom appallingly expensive!
According to research carried out by the Good Housekeeping Institute, “being single carries a price penalty of at least £2,000 a year per individual”. Totting up the figures, I beg to differ. That is a conservative estimate.
First, the government is intent on creating an anti-single state. The most egregious example of this is council tax: on average – in a band D home – you must pay £835 per person if you are married, and a whopping £1,235 if you live on your lonesome. Tory governments, usually so in favour of cutting taxes no matter the social cost, just love keeping them high for singletons. Is it fair to financially punish those who have failed to find true and lasting love?
Our gym memberships are more expensive, our wills are more expensive, even our single person-sized milk cartons are, you guessed it, more expensive. And that’s without examining all the small print. On holiday, we pay extra to sleep alone, fly alone and eat alone.
Then there’s the issue of insurance premiums. “According to insurers, I’d be a better driver tomorrow if I got hitched today,” the financial journalist Emma Lunn has complained. “You can put it to the test by comparing quotes with identical details except marital status.”
Even on a train journey we’re fleeced more offensively for the sub-standard service. The “Two Together” railcard entitles anyone who has someone to hold hands with to a third off off-peak fares. No, there’s nothing to stop two friends buying one together – but how many of us singletons spend every weekend away with the same friend? Why do we get charged more per person by gyms and the National Trust for membership than couples taking out a joint membership?
Of course, things could be worse. We might be living in America. A 2013 survey of the costs of being single found that, factoring in the price of healthcare, “over a lifetime, unmarried women can pay as much as a million dollars more than their married counterparts”. No wonder that every time Beyoncé sings about single ladies the chorus consists of a load of “uh-oh’s”.
Some might argue we shouldn’t worry about the single premium: we’ll all be cajoled into marriage at some point and so rid ourselves of it eventually. But, as Rebecca Traister pointed out in her book All the Single Ladies, there are more unmarried women alive today than at any point in history – and we’re a powerful demographic.
If a woman is single past a certain age, society heaps all the blame – for blame is what it insists on heaping – on her. The birth rate is said to be falling not because many men don’t want to commit but because women are too busy or too picky or too high-powered and put off having children.
Actually, my single friends and I have invested heavily in trying to find a partner we love who loves us so much we become pregnant. On top of all our other single-centric outgoings, according to Match.com we spend on average £1,280 a year on dates (mine have been utterly parlous). I’ve been searching for love since Tinder was invented and all I have to show for it is the lousy state of my bank account. Along with my best friends, I’m fretting about how to have children if conditions don’t improve on the love front. And yes, a single woman’s fertility treatment will cost her twice as much as if she were going through it with a partner.
In the meantime, we’ve also spent a fortune celebrating everyone else’s happinesses – buying house-warming gifts, engagement presents, splurging on hen dos, weddings, christenings. Once, I found a card in a shop that read: “It’s better to have loved and lost than to have spent your life with a psychopath.” And I wish I’d punched the air and borne it home because it’s the closest any cultural artefact has come to celebrating me and my life choices (aside from a book that I wrote myself).
And we’re not just made poorer financially – we’re all but bankrupt culturally. In the 90s, there was Kim Cattrall vamping it up on HBO proving we weren’t sadsacks; now the closest thing we have to a standard bearer for our generation is Fleabag, and who would want to be her?
If you’re past a certain age, everyone expects you to be married with children and if you’re not, complete strangers will demand to know why. Staying single is presented as petrifying on all fronts. The crippling price of remaining so is only one – significant – part of it.