Unmarried? It’ll Cost You

A new report from the Center for American Progress gives stark details on what it means for single or unmarried women in our economy today that our classic definition of “family” hasn’t changed in decades.

Although they make up just under half of U.S. women, unmarried women represent 60 percent of women without health insurance, 63 percent of unemployed women, and 75 percent of women in poverty. They are less employed, make less money, and perhaps most significantly, face additional discrimination and financial burdens because of the pervasive assumption that every family has a male “breadwinner.”

Government policies such as Social Security, designed decades ago, were crafted to support so-called “family men” who worked 40-hour weeks at the same job for their whole career. Health insurance, car insurance, retirement plans–nearly all are still defined by one’s marital status.

Thus single women face higher costs for all of these things simply because they are single. This continues even though, in a radical shift from the 1960s, nearly half of American women are now unmarried.

The report finds hope, however, in several pieces of legislation currently in Congress that would address the needs of unmarried women:

  • Health Care Reform: The just-passed health-care reform bill will make health-care plans more widely available and more affordable, alleviating a serious financial burden for many unmarried women
  • Pay Equity: The Paycheck Fairness Act, passed in the House in 2009 and currently awaiting Senate approval, would help end the practice of paying women lower wages for the same work. Even better would be the passage of the Fair Pay Act, which guarantees equal pay for not just the same job, but equivalent work across occupations.
  • Childcare: The pending Starting Early, Starting Right Act would reauthorize the Childcare and Development Block Grant, providing child-care subsidies to low income women and families.
  • Affordable housing: Some of the current housing legislation before Congress would make it easier for divorced women to obtain mortgage modifications (since their mortgage when they bought the house was likely based on two incomes) and help stop predatory lenders, who disproportionately target women.

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Nisha Chittal is a digital strategist and political blogger based in Washington, DC. She writes about politics, new media, and women's issues for a variety of publications including Mediaite.com, Lemondrop.com, her personal site Politicoholic.com, and most recently, the Ms. Magazine blog.