One is the Loneliest Number: The Single Taxpayer in a Joint Return World

37 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2009 Last revised: 26 Feb 2010

See all articles by Lily Kahng

Lily Kahng

Seattle University School of Law

Date Written: April 1, 2009


The United States is one of the few developed countries to retain the joint return, available for heterosexual married couples only. Since its adoption in 1948, its underlying assumptions have been challenged on many valid grounds, and yet it remains firmly embedded in mainstream political and policy discourse. In recent years, most of the debate surrounding the joint return has focused on reducing marriage penalties, bonuses, and who among the universe of couples ought to be extended the benefit of the marriage bonuses. The treatment of single people has received almost no attention.

The scant attention paid to single people is striking in light of the most recent U.S. census data, which indicate that they are nearing a majority of the adult population, a trend one demographer describes as a "clear tipping point." Moreover, awareness of singles as an overlooked demographic is starting to permeate the political and popular cultural consciousness. In addition, economists and other behavioral scientists, as well as feminist theorists, have begun to study singleness as a social identity. They have begun to gather persuasive evidence of the costs-economic, social, and psychological-that are imposed on single people, and to chart the development of a more vibrant social identity for single people.

This Article draws upon the research and insights from these other disciplines to assess the negative impact of the joint return on single people, and to challenge the fundamental assumptions underlying the joint return. It concludes that the single people are unduly penalized under the joint return, and that it ought to be abolished.

Keywords: tax, joint return, marriage, single

JEL Classification: H20, H24, H31

Suggested Citation

Kahng, Lily, One is the Loneliest Number: The Single Taxpayer in a Joint Return World (April 1, 2009). Hastings Law Journal, Vol. 61, Seattle University School of Law Research Paper No. 10:04, Available at SSRN:

Lily Kahng (Contact Author)

Seattle University School of Law ( email )

901 12th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98122
United States

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