If you’ve read Singled Out, you know my take on the so-called marriage penalty in taxes – it is actually a bonus. Single people are the one who get penalized. A law review article comes to the same conclusion.

There’s a different sense of the marriage penalty that actually is real, according to sociologists Naomi Gerstel and Natalia Sarkisian. They talk about marriage as a greedy institution, because it wants all of the interpersonal time and attention for itself. As I’ve been discussing at Living Single, people who are married pay less attention to other people in their lives than do people who are single. They are less likely to stay in close touch with their siblings, friends, parents, or neighbors, or to support them in emotional or practical ways.

The marriage penalty, then, is the investment in other relationships that married couples do not have. Because the authors had several large national samples to draw from, they could see how widespread the penalty was across different subcategories of married couples.

They found that the tendency to pay less attention to people such as siblings and parents than single people do applied to all of the following kinds of married people:

  • Men and women
  • People of different ages
  • Couples with children and couples without children
  • People with different levels of income
  • People with different levels of education
  • People with different employment statuses
  • Whites, African Americans, and Hispanics

The penalty is greater for some of these subgroups than others. For example, married men are even less likely than married women to maintain ties with people other than their spouse. Still, on the average, the greediness of marriage swallows up all of these different kinds of married people.