Going Solo: How singles get hit the worst in a cost of living crisis

A woman checks prices as she shops at a grocery store in Wheeling, Ill., Friday, Jan. 19, 2024.
A woman checks prices as she shops at a grocery store in Wheeling, Ill., Friday, Jan. 19, 2024. Copyright Nam Y. Huh/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Nam Y. Huh/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Indrabati Lahiri
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From housing to travel costs, singles regularly see higher costs than their coupled-up counterparts, which could get worse due to the current cost of living crisis.


The cost of living crisis currently sweeping across Europe is affecting most people in one way or another - but single people are potentially being hit the worst. Being single can be great for you, however, it could also come with a steep price tag.

According to finance and insurance company Ocean Finance, UK singletons pay about £3,195.24 (€3,739.8) every year, on things such as rents, mortgages, utilities and more.

UK and European single people have, over the past few years, been hit with disproportionately increasing costs compared to couples or families. This has led to the rise of a coined term, the Singles Tax, also known as the single penalty, which refers to all the extra costs faced by people who aren't paired up.

This can be seen in almost everything, from mortgages and bills to travelling and leisure activities, especially on singletons with no children.

According to Eurostat, single-person households with no children rose by 30.7% from 2009 to 2022 in the EU. The smallest households were seen in Lithuania, Estonia, Denmark and Finland, whereas the largest ones were in Croatia, Slovakia and Greece.

Eurostat further highlighted that, in 2022, the most common type of household in the EU were single adult households, accounting for about 71.9 million.

According to licenced marriage and family therapist Sophie Cress, the impact of the Singles Tax could go far beyond financial strain.

"The Singles Tax can have consequences beyond money matters, affecting people's relationships and decision-making. The increasing prevalence of people staying in relationships for financial reasons indicates the societal and economic pressures faced by single individuals.

"Many find themselves questioning whether they can afford to be single, both financially and emotionally, in a world where the cost of living solo seems exorbitant.

"The Singles Tax can cause them to feel socially isolated and stigmatised. This is because society tends to place more value on romantic partnerships and family units, leaving single individuals feeling marginalised.

"As a result, these individuals may experience feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness since the norm is that happiness and fulfillment are mostly achieved through romantic relationships," said Cress.

Which expenses get hit the worst with the Singles Tax?

In a cost of living crisis, singletons may be struggling to pay rents and mortgages alone, especially in high-cost cities such as London. This has also led to people in currently unhappy or unhealthy relationships thinking twice before separating, as they may not be confident of their ability to support themselves alone.

In many cases, banks and other financial institutions are also less keen on issuing loans and mortgages to single people, even if they have stable, well-paying jobs and a decent down payment for the mortgage. This can make it hard for people to buy houses on their own.

Grocery bills can also be much higher, because of items being packaged in two to four serving sizes, with family-sized packs of items such as chips or chocolate also being pushed towards singles.

While eating out, singles are also less likely to be able to take advantage of deals aimed towards couples or families

Similarly, travel costs can add up quickly, with unattached people not always being able to access discounts such as Two Together railcards in the UK. This also extends to hotels and other holiday activities, with a person going solo missing out on significant group discounts.

The same continues when it comes to utilities such as water and energy bills, which can operate on a fixed tariff and mainly take two-person households into account. Other leisure costs such as a TV licence and streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime will also be more expensive.

Ocean Finance estimates that singles pay about £200 a month more on bills - including housing - than they would have if they had another adult with whom they could split the cost. Similarly, they spend about £15 more on food and alcohol, £39.5 more on holidays and £26.4 more on subscriptions.


Single people often pay higher taxes than couples or families

Finn Wheatley, risk analyst at The Small Business Blog was reported by the Big Issue as saying: "The cost of living alone adds up. For one, taxes hit single people harder than couple or families. Living by myself, everything from rent to groceries to healthcare was my responsibility alone, without anyone to split costs with."

Although people can find ways to pay less rent and lower their grocery bills, higher taxes for singles could potentially sting more. For example, in the UK, Marriage Allowance could potentially cut a couple's tax bill by about £1,000.

According to OECD, in 2022, in Belgium the tax wedge for single workers with no children was about 53.0%, with Germany coming in at 47.8% and Austria at 46.8%. France taxed single childless workers at 47.0%, with Italy imposing a tax of 45.9%.

In contrast, the Belgian tax wedge for an average married worker with two children was 37.8% in 2022, with Germany taxing them at 32.9% and Austria at 30.2%. France taxed them at 39.2%, with Italy clocking in at 34.9%.

Belgian municipality brings in lifestyle neutral reforms

As of 1 January 2023, Belgium had 1.8 million one-person households, according to Stratbel, accounting for more than 36% of private households. During the pandemic, these households increased by about 22%.


However, Belgium continues to have one of the highest taxation policies for singles. This has led to Carla Dehonghe, a Belgian politician from the Open Flemish, Liberals and Democrats Party (Open VLD) condemning the social discrimination against single childless people, especially when it comes to taxes.

Calling for more lifestyle-neutral taxation policies, as reported by Brussels Times, Dehonghe said: "Many people end up alone as a result of changing situations. There is no age limit on living alone. The group of single people is very diverse: singles, people who are divorced, widows and widowers, single-parent families etc.

"The classic family of two parents and two children is still the norm in the eyes of policymakers. This leads, among other things, to measures that are disadvantageous for single people, in terms of taxes, housing and more.

"Leaving your inheritance to your children or partner provides the most advantageous inheritance tax, but single childless people simply do not have this option. Giving your inheritance to someone outside the family circle, even a sibling, means mostly good news for the state."

However, Dehonghe has brought in some changes to this effect in her own municipality, Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, whose council recently voted unanimously on a charter aimed at bringing in more inclusive social, housing and communal changes.


These involve things like new housing with more communal spaces for singles to interact socially, restaurants including communal tables, municipal invitations including plus one invites, instead of only a partner and more.

"Everyone can do their bit, not just politicians. Local restaurants can develop single-friendly policies. In the workplace, respect for everyone's wishes can be ensured," said Dehonghe.

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