Christina Campbell can easily list the ways that being single costs her financially: When she was self-employed, she paid more for her individual health insurance plan than if she were part of a couple, or if she could have piggy-backed on a spouse's plan. She also notes that her retirement savings options are more limited than they are for couples, who can contribute to each other's IRAs. "If I were to suddenly become unemployed, my retirement savings would certainly suffer in a way that they wouldn't if I had a husband," says Campbell, 38, who lives in Centreville, Va.
[Read: 10 Smart Ways to Improve Your Budget.]
Campbell, one of the voices behind the pro-single website onely.org, points to a variety of other employer policies that give preferences to couples, as well. Spouses often get bereavement leave for each other's close family members, while Campbell was unable to take leave for her uncle's funeral. She also couldn't add beneficiaries outside her nuclear family to her long-term care insurance without taking out a separate policy.
As Campbell found from first-hand experience, single people often face unique financial stresses that can take a heavy toll, especially as they approach retirement. A new report from the MetLife Mature Market Institute and the Society of Actuaries found that single people have more financial stresses than couples do, and single women in particular say they have a harder time saving for retirement than married couples do.
Singles, in fact, reported the lowest income levels ($32,000, on average), asset levels ($110,000), and the homeownership rates (43 percent) compared to other family structures. Just 17 percent said they believed they were on track to reach their retirement savings goals, and one-fifth had not yet started putting away money for retirement. Most single respondents said they worry about affording their living expenses and maintaining their standard of living in retirement.
Many of those financial stresses originate from having only one income to rely on, says MetLife Mature Market Institute's Sandra Timmermann. "Single people are more vulnerable than the couples who have double earnings," she says, adding that that's the case whether they have children or not. Single people also tend to earn less than married couples, she points out, and on average, they have lower education levels.
[Read: The High Price of Living Alone.]
The study, which surveyed adults between ages 45 and 80, also found that couples were more likely than singles to have taken steps to pay off debt, met with a financial adviser, and invested for retirement. "It almost seems that when you have a partner and somebody to work with, there is more of an incentive to do planning," says Timmermann.
The study comes at a time of peak interest in singles, given the country's shifting demographics. According to the Census Bureau, the number of single-person households has grown to 31 million, up 15 percent between 2000 and 2010. Meanwhile, husband-wife households are on the decline, now making up less than half of total households. If singles aren't financially secure, then a large chunk of the country isn't financially secure.
Still, despite the alarming findings, some singles say they're better off than they would be in a couple, especially if their partner was less financially responsible. "It's far easier for me to save for retirement, because my money is my own and I can spend it how I want to," says Eleanore Wells, a singles expert and author of The Spinsterlicious Life.
Wells acknowledges that a second income from a partner might allow her to live in a "bigger, fancier apartment," the travel industry often offers couples' discounts, and wireless companies often give discounts for family plans, but otherwise, being single doesn't impose too much of a financial burden. "I think the opposite is true. Some of my friends are married to delightful guys but they're terrible money managers … What I like about being single is that all my decisions are my own," she says.
[Read: The Cost of Getting Married.]