Salary Comparison: Married vs. Unmarried

Within the U.S. armed forces, married soldiers are paid a higher annual salary than military singles. This salary comparison hasn’t gone unnoticed by military singles who are marrying strangers in order to get a higher salary, according to a recent report by It’s called a “marriage contract” and it works like this: military singles seek strangers to marry, soldier marries stranger (i.e. contract wife), receives extra pay for being married and pays off contract wife with a portion of extra pay.

According to, an unmarried private in the Army earns a monthly salary of about $1,350. However, if he gets married, his monthly salary increases to about $1,800. If he is deployed, our married soldier will also receive a “Family Separation Allowance” of $250, or as it’s called in the service, “missing me” pay.

Thanks to these contract arrangements and the military pay chart, married enlisted definitely earn more than military singles. What about a salary comparison in civilian life? Are you likely to earn a higher salary if you’re married?

How does your and your spouse’s salary compare? Do a salary comparison with our salary calculator.

Salary ranges of twins: married vs. single

As reported in the New York Times, two economists, Kate Antonovics and Robert Town of UC San Diego and the University of Minnesota, decided to do a salary comparison of the salary ranges of married and unmarried men. Their data sample was 136 pairs of monozygotic (identical) twins who had answered a survey sent out by the Minnesota Twins Registry (not affiliated with the baseball team). Since twins have the same genetic background, upbringing and abilities, the theory was the twins should have similar salary ranges.

The economists found that 85 percent of the individual twins were married. In 23 percent of pairs, one twin was married and one was single. They studied hourly wages, time worked, age and educational level of the twins. Treating the 272 twins as just men, the economists found that, after controlling for education, age and other demographic variables, the married men earned about 19 percent more than the unmarried men did. This is typical of the US working male population as a whole.

Now for the test: for the 31 twin pairs, with one married and one single, was there any systematic difference in pay? Assuming twins are identical, except for the state of being married, any difference would be caused by being married. The economists found that the married twin earned on average 26 percent more in annual salary than the unmarried one.

Of course, how identical are the twins, when they differ in such a crucial behavior, getting married?

I have identical twins for cousins. While they look a lot a like, and are close to each other, they have behaved significantly differently throughout their lives. Having identical DNA, and being raised by the same parents, does not make two people identical. Small physical differences, and different experiences, can make them very different people.

The Minnesota twins data are interesting, but not definitive.

Do married men work more to avoid the family?

Perhaps it is the state of being married that changes the twin to be more desirable to employers. An article about U.S. married workers in the Washington Post seems to concur with the results of the economists’ study: “Among its many benefits, marriage raises the earnings of men and motivates them to work more hours [emphasis added].” Working more hours, particularly for salaried (exempt) jobs, is definitely something an employer would value.

The AAUW study on pay differences also found that college educated men who are parents (usually married) work at least as many hours as single. It also found that men with no children are more likely to be “out of the labor force” (unemployed and not looking), unemployed, or employed part-time, than are men with children. Men with children are more likely to be working full-time or multiple part-time jobs.

These findings stand on its head the assumption that single men can spend more time in the office, because they do not have families that demand their time. Perhaps a single lifestyle takes more time to maintain than a married one does?

Economists always miss the obvious: motivation

Is the root cause of the “marriage gap” just that married men are more productive? In other words, do married men feel a need to work longer and harder, simply because they are married?

Any man who has had a wife at home with small children, a house payment, private school or college tuition to pay, etc., knows the pressure that comes both indirectly (greater sense of responsibility for family) and directly (baby needs a new pair of shoes) from marriage.

Having a fulltime “life coach” at home, making sure you make smart career decisions, limiting your partying, etc., would raise anyone’s productivity and income. Author Steve Knock, in his book Marriage in Men’s Lives, says, “Employers value marriage and reward it.” However, I suspect employers are rewarding productivity, not the ring.

I have seen this in my own life: when I wanted to take a year off to play golf, my wife nixed the plan. Needless to say, it is my single male colleagues who take off 6 months or a year to travel around the world or bike across the country, not the married ones. 😉

Once last anecdote: I have received several emails from wives who wanted to know whether their husbands’ wages were competitive, or whether their husbands should look for a higher paying job. Having another person intensely interested in increasing your income is definitely going to have some effect: a 20% increase sounds about right 🙂

Is your salary enough to send a kid to private school? The PayScale Salary Calculator is a quick and easy way to compare positions. When you want powerful salary data and comparisons customized for your exact position, be sure to build a complete profile by taking PayScale’s full salary survey. 


Dr. Al Lee