Married couples make more in Seattle than in any other city except Washington, D.C.
My last column shocked some readers.
I wrote about IRS data showing that 51 percent of tax returns filed by Seattle residents in 2014 reported income of less than $50,000.
Most of the readers who emailed me found that surprising — but not everybody.
“I am sick of hearing that Seattle has all these high-income people,” one woman wrote. “Thanks for setting the record straight about the ‘real’ incomes of people in Seattle.”
But perhaps by focusing on filers in the lower-income bracket, nearly all of whom are single people, I glossed over another story — that of Seattle’s 113,000 married couples. It’s a very different story.
So let me present you now with this striking statistic:
The median household income for a Seattle married couple hit $133,000 in 2015, according to the latest census data. That’s 61 percent higher than the U.S. median for married couples, $82,000. And among the 50 largest U.S. cities, only Washington, D.C., has a higher median for wedded folks.
The median income is the halfway point, meaning half made more and half made less.
Of course, you would expect a married couple to earn more than a single person since, most of the time, both spouses work. But married couples don’t just earn double what single people do. The median income for a man who lives alone in Seattle was $50,000 in 2015. For a woman who lives alone, it was $41,000.
Seattle’s married-couple households have also enjoyed heftier gains in income in recent years — the median jumped by $35,000 from 2006 to 2015. For men living alone, incomes grew by $10,000 in that period; for women, $8,000.
While the wealth gap between married couples and single people is large here, the phenomenon isn’t unique to Seattle.
“What we’ve seen since the 1980s is that marriage is increasingly the preserve of the more educated and affluent Americans,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. “What we see is people who have done better in school, and better in the marketplace, are more likely to tie the knot.” And among Americans who get married, those with a college degree are much less likely to divorce within the first 10 years of marriage than their counterparts with less education.
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The retreat from marriage hit first among poor communities in the 1960s and 1970s, Wilcox said, and is now spreading to middle-class Americans, who are often choosing cohabitation over marriage.
In Seattle, too, cohabitation has become more common, as folks look for ways to cut costs in the face of fast-rising rents. The number of Seattleites living in unmarried-partner households increased by 29 percent from 2010 to 2015. That’s significantly faster than the growth in the number of married people in that period, which was 18 percent.
But what about everybody’s stereotype of new wealth in Seattle, which is not the married couple but the twenty-something tech worker — fresh out of college, newly settled in a Capitol Hill micro-apartment, and who just landed a six-figure job in South Lake Union?
Sure, there’s some truth to it. But it’s still more the exception than the rule. Just 9 percent of Seattleites in their 20s who work full-time had earnings of $100,000 or more in 2015, according to census data.