Marriage in America is going out of style—unless you’re rich

Now, shall we file jointly?
Now, shall we file jointly?
Image: Reuters/Carlo Allegri
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Marriage rates are declining across the developed world, but not equally in every demographic. In the US, the institution is increasingly becoming the province of the well-off and better-educated, a story that can be told through the unromantic medium of tax receipts.

By 2014 the share of the US adult population that was married had dropped to 50%, from 69% in 1970. In the same time period, the share of tax receipts that came from married filers dropped too, but by much less. In 2014, payments from married people accounted for 74% of total US income tax receipts, just 6 percentage points lower than in 1970. Married people accounted for much less of the population, but were still putting the majority of funds into the national tax pot.

Married Americans, who can file their taxes jointly or separately, pay almost three-quarters of the nation’s income taxes because they’re richer than non-married people. The average adjusted gross income of an unmarried filer was $35,200 in 2014. Among married filers it was $115,100. That’s partly explained by the fact that joint filings can be for two-income households, but the amount is still calculated per individual, suggesting that married filers are on average three times richer than those taxpayers who haven’t got hitched.

Over the same time period, the share of high school graduates who are married has also fallen much more sharply than the share of college graduates who tie the knot. “Marriage is increasingly linked with higher levels of education, which are in turn linked to higher incomes,” wrote Anthony Cilluffo at the Pew Research Center, which conducted the research.