SSome argue that the first day in the third week of January is the most depressing of the calendar. This year, Blue Monday came with extra ferocity — for those of us who happen to be single, that is. A financial services company chose exactly that miserable moment to reveal how much more expensive it is to live alone than as a couple.
If you’re currently alone, and you’re already feeling down from the post-holiday slump, you might want to look away now. According to real estate agent Hargreaves Lansdown, the cost of living for single people averages £860 a month, taking into account typical expenses from rent and utility bills to groceries, Wi-Fi and TV subscriptions.
That’s a huge figure in itself – an extra £10,000 a year in spending – and it hurts even more when you compare it to what your partner friends pay. The average couple spends £991 per person, so if you live alone you’ll be spending almost twice as much as them on the exact same goods and services. For those who have not chosen their solo status, inability adds to injury.
As a long-term bachelor, I’ve grown accustomed to the injustice of the single room supplement – the supplement that requires me to pay extra to eat less breakfast and soil fewer towels. I scoff at the misleading title “discount” I’m given by the council, which charges me 75% of the marriage rate for using only 50% of the services (and arguably less, because I’m childless).
Yet I’ve rarely wasted much time wondering how life without a partner affects my finances. That’s not because I’m comfortably accommodated by personal wealth (which would be nice), but because I’ve always assumed these things are generally equal. Since I don’t share my worldly goods with anyone else, I’ve never seen my bank account emptied by someone making purchases I don’t want or need. Nor have I been able to bear the eye-watering costs of raising children or pay the tedious legal costs and potentially lifelong financial obligations of a divorce.
There is another reason why I have resisted the economic disadvantages of living alone. Women are already conditioned to see life without a partner as a life of lack or absence, if not outright misery. Challenging Bridget Jones to default can be hard work and a poor-me mentality doesn’t help. As someone who always imagined herself married, I learned the hard way not to fixate on the negatives of being single.
The current climate of uncertainty, inequality and inflation makes it impossible to ignore the issue. As much as I’ve loved Apple TV+ Bad sisters, I can’t see Sharon Horgan’s Eve living alone in a huge family home without wondering how she can afford to heat it. Seeing last week’s numbers in stone-cold print has finally snapped me out of my state of denial. 10 grand extra per year? The relative financial advantages of singledom and coupledom are not swings and roundabouts at all, they are snakes and ladders.
More remarkable than the massive inequality itself, one that the majority of single people have long sensed, is how we respond to it. Whatever sympathy the news may provoke for ourselves or our single friends is soon followed by a sense of powerlessness or even outright ambivalence. This is not the kind of inequality we should challenge or change. Maybe it’s because we see being single as a temporary status. Or maybe because we can’t dispel the suspicion that a solo life is a self-indulgent life.
In the 18th century, social commentators in Britain advocated a tax on bachelors and spinsters, who were believed to contribute nothing concrete to the nation’s productivity. Frances Brooke, who wrote a series of articles as “Mary Singleton”, suggested that unmarried men over 30 should pay a shilling in the pound and unmarried women six pence. “The very circumstance that they are not burdened with their fortunes, but that which only concerns them, makes them, of all others, the most fit to be judged exceedingly,” she wrote, adding that she herself “burdened” with such a debt. the greatest pleasure” would pay. .
Living alone is a privilege, but it can also be a burden. In her brilliant book about spinster, I dare not name them, Donna Ward argues that “the crucial conversation to have is about the realities of this life – its social, psychological and financial implications and the ways in which legislators, friends, family and neighbors can support those who live life”. Most single people live on one income in a dual-income economy — and one that lawmakers make the mistaken assumption of having more disposable income than their coupled counterparts.
American social psychologist Bella DePaulo has long campaigned for more awareness of how society invisibly discriminates against unmarried people — for example, by expecting more from them in the workplace and then robbing them through a tax system that prioritizes married and family units . Maybe it is time to make a fuss about that one surcharge.