A 2018 Tinder survey shows 72% of young millennials, ages 18 to 25, have "made a conscious decision" to stay single at one time or another. But while young people seem to be embracing the single life, there could be financial implications for remaining unmarried for the average American — at least in the workplace.
In the U.S., 90% of companies offer additional benefits to married employees and families over single staffers, according to "The Cost of Being Single Revealed," a 2019 report from employee benefits provider Thomsons Online Benefits, which surveyed 300 human resources decision makers in the U.S.
This benefits gap is a problem, says Matthew Jackson, vice president of client solutions at Thomsons Online Benefits. Single people shouldn't be shorted on their benefits "simply because of family structure," he tells CNBC Make It.
"In 2017, the U.S. Census reported over 110 million Americans over the age of 18 are currently unmarried," Jackson says. "That's 45% of the U.S. population."
Benefits disparities between single and married employees vary in type and scope, the data shows. On average, married employees receive 3.6 more days of paid time off (PTO) per year than single workers. Often, this is due to PTO that's offered for wedding-related occasions, such as weddings and honeymoons.
But this gap encompasses more than PTO. Here are five other areas where Thomsons found disparities:
- Health care: In the U.S., employers contribute an average of $462 per month to a married person's health care plan. That's $118 more than the average $344 contributed to single employees' plans per month. Here, the gap has a lot to do with the actual costs of health care. "The premium for a family is obviously more than the premium for a single person, hence the value discrepancy," Jackson says. It also has to do with the potential that a person's spouse may fall sick, meaning there's now double the likelihood that someone in a household may experience health-related issues.
- Family leave: Nearly 40 million Americans provide care to adults with a disability or illness, yet 70% of companies will only allow paid family leave to staffers who are parents, according to the report.
- Pensions: Of the HR decision makers Thomsons surveyed, 34% said that they offer "additional pension contributions" to employees who are legally married.
- Bereavement leave: Just 29% of companies allow time off for a friend's funeral and only about a quarter (25%) will offer bereavement leave for the funeral of a boyfriend or girlfriend. In comparison, more than half (65%) of companies would offer additional PTO for the death of a spouse.
- Flexible working: More than half (56%) of U.S. companies will allow employees with children to work four days per week. However, the option to work a four-day week isn't not as common for staffers without kids; just 36% of employers offer it to employees without kids.
Getting married introduces "a whole host of tangible benefits" both at work and through federal tax breaks, Jackson says. But even if you are single, there are ways to optimize your benefits.
Unmarried employees can start by understanding all of the benefits offered by their company. It may seem simple, but in 2018 just half of U.S. employees said they understood their benefits packages, according to data from employee benefits news site BenefitsPro. That's a 27% drop from 2015 when 77% said they understood them.
Why is this a problem? Say a family member dies and you don't know if your employer offers bereavement leave. Or if you are unaware that your workplace offers an employer-sponsored retirement savings fund, such as a 401(k), with a match, you could be missing out on part of your compensation.
To ensure you comprehend all of your benefits and are aware of what's offered, you can reach out to your benefits advisor or human resources manager at work.
Additionally, you can let your employer know that they may be adding to this benefits gap.
"In this tight labor market, employees have more power," Jackson says. "Employers want to offer competitive benefits in order to hire and retain top talent."
Speaking up may alert unaware employers to the gap in their benefits program for unmarried employers. If your employer offers a feedback survey, that could be a good way to bring up the issue. At many companies, "there are growth 'check-in' employee sentiment solutions, like quick pulse surveys, that employees should take full advantage of with offering their thoughts on benefits," Jackson says.
It all starts with getting your company's attention and making leadership and human resources cognizant of the issues. "A lot of companies may not even be aware of the benefits disparities within their system because it's just always how it's been done," Jackson says. "Unmarried employees can start by raising awareness of the issue."
"It's time for companies to do better when it comes to personalizing benefits to support all employees, regardless of family structure," says Jackson. "Fair treatment needs to be extended to everyone so that organizations don't unintentionally discriminate against their employees."
According to Jackson, companies can achieve more equality "by carefully analyzing data on their employees' personal needs and then using this to create a benefits offering that's valuable and inclusive for all."
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