If there’s anything the manosphere hates more than feminism, it’s the notion of taxing single men at higher rates than married people. Known as a “bachelor tax,” the practice first emerged in Ancient Rome as a way to penalize unmarried individuals and couples without kids. The concept was simple: Either shack up with a spouse and pop out a baby, or pay the price.
Since the U.S. was founded, there’s never been a bachelor tax at the federal level. But in 1821, Missouri passed the first state-based version, requiring single men over the age of 21 to pay $1 a year. It wasn’t exactly embraced. According to KCRU public radio, one local bachelor told the Missouri Intelligencer on June 4, 1821 that “taxing a portion of the inhabitants for no other reason than they are not married, and exempting from it those that are, is, in my opinion, unconstitutional, impolitick, partial, oppressive and the perfection of legislative absurdity.”
Not surprisingly, the tax ended after just a year, but similar taxes would go on to be proposed (and nearly always killed) by eight additional states over the next hundred years. In New York in 1825, it was meant to replace a tax on dogs. Michigan followed suit in 1837 with the first of nine failed attempts. It would eventually be argued in the Wolverine State that women who said no to marriage proposals should be the ones who had to pay up, but that didn’t stick either.
Meanwhile, in 1857, Connecticut dismissed a motion to introduce a bachelor tax, arguing that bachelors were already taxed heavily enough. In 1890, Wyoming tabled a $2.50 bachelor tax. In 1911, a Georgia assemblyman proposed a $50 tax on bachelors to help fund schools. A decade later, in 1921, Montana passed a $3 tax on men who weren’t the “heads of families,” before it got shot down in the state’s Supreme Court and the government had to repay the bachelors it had collected from. Finally, in 1934, California tried to combat low birth rates with a $25 tax for bachelors, but it went nowhere.
The funds from such taxes were typically meant “to support some group of people who were thought to be destitute because the bachelors were not performing their duty — orphans, aged spinsters or widows,” historian Jill Frahm explains for the Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. But in reality, the cultural discourse centered on fears of “race suicide” among white Americans — a term used publicly by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 to push “Anglo-Saxons” to get married and have children.
Today, men’s rights activists are eager to point out the ways in which the bachelor tax, borne from a history of white supremacy, lives on to penalize modern single men — even if we don’t officially have a bachelor tax on the books in any state. For instance, a single man who makes $75,000 a year and a couple who earns $150,000 would face the same income tax rate. “However, if a bachelor earns $75,000 and a married man whose spouse doesn’t work also earns $75,000, the bachelor will be in a higher tax bracket,” Kari Brummond, a financial writer for TaxCure.com, explains. Unmarried men also lose out on the credits and deductions that families earn for children.
“This is extremely anti-male, especially younger men (sub 30 or so),” writes redditor analt223 in the r/MensRights subreddit. From the MRA perspective — which requires some bad math based on deeply gendered stereotypes — young men are more likely to lose out because women are more likely to pair with older men. As for women? Analt223 assumes “younger women are fine” since they can easily get married and become pregnant, whereas older divorced women can rely on tax breaks from the children they supposedly already had in previous relationships.
Regardless of the many reductive assumptions made here, Grace Allison, a staff attorney with New Mexico Legal Aid, clarifies that these perceived “breaks” also have very little to do with marriage, and more to do with federal credits and deductions to prevent children living below the poverty line from starving. “The tax benefits for families with children include the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit and the child and dependent care credit,” Allison explains. “Academic research has shown that these tax benefits positively affect children’s health, educational outcomes and exposure to hunger.”
No one is disputing the fact that unmarried men without children can also be in need of financial support — just that you don’t have to create a supposed “bachelor tax” out of thin air to fit a specific narrative of male victimhood. So before you go down that Reddit rabbit hole or advocate against tax breaks that serve the working poor, maybe just spend that time finding yourself a good accountant instead.