Despite Decline in American Marriages, Couples Still Pay Most of Nation’s Taxes

UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1950s: Couple driving in convertible. (Photo by George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)
Getty Images/George Marks

Although the share of U.S. adults who are married has fallen steadily over the past half-century, married couples continue to pay the majority of the nation’s income tax.

According to new data from the Pew Research Center, married Americans account for nearly 74 percent of all income taxes. Although only 50 percent of American adults are married, they still pay nearly three-quarters of the nation’s income tax, which Pew researchers attribute to the economics of marriage, arguing that “marriage is increasingly linked with higher levels of education, which are in turn linked to higher incomes.”

The percentage of married American couples filing tax returns fell from 60 to 38 percent between 1970 and 2014. In 1980, those tax returns accounted for 80 percent of the nation’s income taxes. In 2014, married couples accounted for 74 percent of all income taxes.

If the Pew researchers are correct in their assumptions about the higher levels of education of married individuals, this means that incomes for married couples have increased between 1970 and 2014. Economist Walter Williams has famously argued that marriage is often a deterrent to poverty, suggesting that “avoiding long-term poverty is not rocket science.”

First, graduate from high school. Second, get married before you have children, and stay married. Third, work at any kind of job, even one that starts out paying the minimum wage. And finally, avoid engaging in criminal behavior. It turns out that a married couple, each earning the minimum wage, would earn an annual combined income of $30,000. The Census Bureau poverty line for a family of two is $15,500, and for a family of four, it’s $23,000. By the way, no adult who starts out earning the minimum wage does so for very long.

According to the Pew data, in 2014, the average tax return filed by a married couple reflected an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $115,100. Single Americans reported an average income of $35,200. This difference can partially be explained away by the reality that many married Americans have two incomes.

The average tax rate for married filers was 16 percent, as opposed to unmarried filers, who paid 13 percent on average.

Tom Ciccotta is a libertarian who writes about economics and higher education for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @tciccotta or email him at