“White privilege” and “male privilege” are familiar concepts in our cultural conversations. There is, however, another vast swath of unearned privileges that have gone largely unrecognized, even though they unfairly advantage about half of the adult population in the United States. We’re talking about marital privileges. People who marry enjoy social, cultural, economic, and political advantages that single people do not, simply because they are married.
When it comes to keeping single people in their place, marital privilege is just the half of it. The other half is singlism, the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination against people who are single. Singlism is not as vicious as some of the other isms such as racism or heterosexism. No one has been dragged to their death, or assigned to separate drinking fountains, just because they are single. Still, the boxed set of marital privilege and singlism touches so many aspects of single people’s lives that it simply cannot be dismissed. Over the course of a lifetime, the unfair treatment adds up.
If you are still skeptical, try this thought experiment: Imagine that all of the examples were flipped, such that single people got all the privileges and married people were the targets of all of the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination. Would that be okay?
Check Your Marital Privilege
Do any of these circumstances apply to you? Check Your Marital Privilege. (For bonus points, check your Coupling Privilege; unmarried but socially coupled people also reap some of these benefits):
- I enjoy the presumption of happiness: People assume that because I am married, I’m happier than I would be if I were single. If I am not happy, people don’t assume it’s because I’m married.
- I can count on finding huge numbers of movies, TV shows, and books featuring characters desperately seeking to join my marital status and being celebrated when they succeed.
- I regularly see touching essays or stories about my marital status published in prestigious media outlets.
- I do not find lists of reasons why I am still married on websites and in magazines.
- I do not receive unsolicited advice about what I did wrong that led me to get married, or what “issues” I have that left me in the sorry state of matrimony.
- I do not get looks of pity when strangers learn that I am married.
- No one tells me to get a life; they assume I already have one.
- It is unlikely that anyone will ask why I got married, or why I am still married.
- I am not told my marital status makes me a “workaholic”.
- I’m not asked to work overtime because it’s assumed I have nothing better to do.
- If I have lots of pets, people don’t assume it’s because I’m married.
- I enjoy the presumption of maturity: People assume that because I am married, I’m more mature than I would be if I were single. If I act in an immature way, people don’t assume it’s because I’m married.
- I don’t have to constantly explain or defend my marital status, because it is seen as natural.
- When I pay into Social Security, I know that when I die, someone important to me (my spouse or dependent) will be able to claim my Social Security benefits.
- I can give large sums of money or estate property to someone important to me (my spouse) without paying taxes.
- I can put away money for someone important in my life (my spouse) in a separate IRA if that person needs it.
- I receive money from the military should a loved one (my spouse) tragically die in service of our country.
- I often pay less for insurance simply because I am married.
- I am presented with prices for events and trips and memberships in the form most relevant to me – by the couple.
- I can be the star of expensive celebrations of my marital status and I won’t be called selfish or self-centered.
- I can ask my friends and family for household items, vacations, and money to reward me for my marital status and I won’t be called selfish or self-centered.
- I can decide not to include my single friends in social events, and I will not be asked to account for my behavior.
- I can assume that an important person in my life (my spouse) will be included in social invitations, such as the “plus one” at weddings.
- If I put lots of time and effort into a relationship with a person important to me (my spouse), I don’t have to explain why.
- If I want to adopt, my marital status will work in my favor.
- If I decide to raise kids, no one will worry that because I’m married, my kids will become juvenile delinquents.
- If I decide to raise kids, no one will presume that because I’m married, my family is at-risk or dysfunctional.
- I know that political leaders will pledge to work on behalf of people of my marital status, and they will not be challenged for caring more about people like me than about people who are not married.
- If I want to learn more about marriage or married people from a scholarly perspective, I will find huge numbers of books, studies, courses and degree programs.
- When researchers claim that getting married makes people happier or healthier or better off than single people in just about any way, I can be pretty sure that no reporter is going to look too closely at the data to see if the claim is really justified.
- If I say that married people are happier or healthier or better than singles in just about any way, no one will say that I only believe that because I’m married.
- If I make the argument that single people are privileged in particular ways, no one will say I am doing so because I am bitter.
An earlier version of our argument, “Do you, married person, take these unearned privileges, for better or for better?,” by Bella DePaulo and Rachel Buddeberg, appeared in Truthout. Copyright,Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission. Also see Lisa Arnold and Christina Campbell’s writing at Onely.org.]