A small sign saying "stay single."
A small sign saying "stay single." Credit: call me hangry / Unsplash Credit: call me hangry / Unsplash

As a South-Asian woman in her (very) early 30s, who lives alone, manages increasing costs for housing, food, life, is adamantly single and from a culture that is absolutely obsessed with marriage, while navigating a hyper capitalist world, I have come to the conclusion that society has built itself around the idea that everyone’s conclusion is a romantic partnership and marriage.

The cost of living in Toronto has sharply increased over the past year. I’ve felt it in my own grocery, transportation and general life bills. TMI warning – I turned 30 last year, moved out of my brother’s apartment to begin navigating life solo.

Fortunately, I secured an apartment before housing costs skyrocketed to the point of a one-bedroom, somewhere close to transit, costing around $2,500 – that’s a 20 per cent year over year increase. Unfortunately, I became the sole bearer of all costs, including housing, hydro, internet, phone and groceries.

As of February 2023, grocery prices were 11 per cent higher than the same time last year (2022). The cost of pleasures is also up because small businesses and restaurants are obviously not immune to their economic environment, which means spending more on eating out compared to pre-pandemic levels. By the end of 2022 – according to a September 2022 Restaurants Canada report – prices at full-service restaurants were expected to climb by as much as 15 per cent.

But, as the capitalist narrative goes, wages haven’t kept up with inflation, which essentially means a pay cut.

Other ways being single can cost you more? Jeanne Sahidi writes: “you don’t have a financial backstop” – meaning if you lose your job, you only have your personal savings to rely on; and “you’re more likely to run short of money for retirement.” According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, the shortfall in savings of retired single women, including divorced or widowed, are three times larger than their married counterparts.

The recent federal and provincial (Ontario) budgets were also disappointing in so far as they completely forgot about young individuals navigating a markedly challenging economic climate. Key words in the federal budget “to make life more affordable” include, single parent, family, seniors, low-income student, but no mention of single individual on single salaries participating in a high stress economic climate.

And so I realized that I exist in a society that’s more inclined to provide benefits to couples who are either legally married or in common-relations through taxes, benefits and deductions not available to single individuals.

A couple of these benefits for couples include:

  1. Spousal tax credit: Married couples and common-law partners can claim a spousal tax credit on their income tax return. This credit provides a tax reduction to the spouse with the lower income, which can help reduce their overall tax burden.
  2. Pension income splitting: Married couples and common-law partners who receive eligible pension income can split up to 50 per cent of that income between them. This can help reduce their overall tax bill and may result in a lower tax rate for the spouse with the lower income.

I’d like to pause and hold space here for any reductionists reading this, who might attempt to conclude that I am advocating for the elimination of these benefits. No, I’m not. There is plenty to go around and I do not believe some groups of people have to be denied to help others.

Having said that, I would like to see more economic benefits and support for single individuals who are under equal financial stress, if not more because they’re taking on costs alone. It’s difficult to definitively say whether people would make different life choices if it was cheaper to be single, but neither can it be denied that financial considerations are often a significant factor in the decisions that people make.

Would couples, for example, take bigger leaps than they’re ready for if housing – the biggest cut of one’s paycheck – was cheaper? Would we, collectively as a society, explore different relationship pathways outside of marriage and common-in-law if the financial burden of choosing to be individuals were reduced?

If money and finances weren’t such an impediment to living the life one dreams for themselves – including very simple desires like moving out of your family home, living alone, travelling, indulging in hobbies, eating out and also saving – what kind of choices would people make for themselves and their relationships? Of course, take this argument with a grain of salt considering people are influenced by a number of social and cultural norms, personal beliefs and biases, and sometimes lack of exposure to the world outside of our bubble as well.

Ultimately, I see a bias in the government’s dealings to support people in relationship styles that have historically existed, when in fact it is costlier to navigate this world as an individual – whether single or choosing to live independently. Especially as young people find it harder and harder to move out of their family home, and in the face of steep costs but stagnant wages, it’s time the government started loosening the financial noose off individuals.

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Shreya Kalra

Shreya is a contributing editor at rabble.ca. She is also the host/producer of a podcast called "The nth Dimension" - which is an exploration of the current zeitgeist from a solutions-oriented lens.