While the share of U.S. adults who are married has been falling steadily over the past 40 years, married people continue to earn most of the nation’s income and pay the vast majority of income taxes, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of IRS tax administration data.
In 1970, 69% of adults were married, and they paid 80% of all federal income taxes. As of 2014, the share of married adults had dropped to half of the adult population (50%) but the share of income taxes paid by them fell much less, to 74%.
The same period saw a sharper decline in the share of all tax returns filed as married (either “married, filing jointly” or “married, filing separately”). In 1970, married returns accounted for 60% of all returns, but fell to just 38% in 2014 – the most recent year that complete tax data are available.
The fact that married Americans continue to pay roughly three-quarters of the nation’s income taxes, in spite of their dwindling share of the adult population, is in part a result of the changing demographics and economics of marriage. Marriage is increasingly linked with higher levels of education, which are in turn linked to higher incomes.