Is Being Single Making Men Broke? Or Is It the Other Way Around?

A recent Pew Research Center study found that single men make less money than men in relationships

Man's hands opening up empty wallet
Is a relationship the key to more money? Or is more money the key to a relationship?
Javier Zayas Photography/Getty Images

While many men — or at least many men who have dated me — may think having a girlfriend is a pricey endeavor, it turns out not having one might actually be worse for a man’s bottom line. A recent report from Pew Research Center found that single people tend to make significantly less money on average than their coupled counterparts, declaring that “single adults at prime working age increasingly lag behind those who are married or cohabiting.” Moreover, the report, published earlier this week, found the correlation between income and relationship status was particularly pronounced among men.

According to the study, the median annual income for single men in 2019 was $35,600, while partnered men earned a median income of $57,000 that year. (The trend also applied to single vs. partnered women, though the income discrepancy was less pronounced, at $32,000 and $40,000, respectively.)

This is bad news for the growing population of singles between the “prime working ages” of 25 to 54, which has increased to 38 percent in 2019 from just 29 percent in 1990. It’s also bad news for society, as a growing army of single, broke men have recently been deemed a mounting existential threat.

The analysis also found that single people are less likely to have a college degree than partnered ones, which study authors Richard Fry and Kim Parker suggested could be a contributing factor to the income discrepancy. Still, interpreting this trend remains a question of which came first: the income or the relationship. In other words, are people in relationships more likely to make more money, are people who make more money more likely to be in relationships?

It’s something Fry and Parker have considered, suggesting the possibility that “men with higher levels of education, higher wages and better prospects for the future” may simply be “more desirable potential spouses.” Still, they also question whether there may be “something about marriage or partnership that gives a boost to a man’s economic outcomes.” Ultimately, according to Fry and Parker, “The research suggests that both factors are at play.”

Indeed, there is existing research to suggest partnered men may work harder (and, in theory, earn more money as a result), perhaps out of a sense of duty to provide for a partner and/or family. Back in 2015, sociologist Bradford Wilcox claimed married men were less likely to quit a job before securing another one than their single counterparts. Wilcox also found that married men tend to spend more hours at work than single ones, though more cynical minds among us may question whether those long work hours stem from a sense of familial duty or a desire to avoid the wife and kids — just putting that out there.

Ultimately, it’s hard to say whether being single is making you broke, or being broke is making you single. Still, picking up a girlfriend probably isn’t your key to a higher paying job. I would be willing to hazard a higher-paying job just might help you land a relationship, though. Again, just saying.

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