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Taxing Bachelors in America: 1895-1939

Marjorie E. Kornhauser*©

I would no more abolish the bachelor than I would

the umbrella because it sometimes breaks in a gale, or a
bicycle because it sometimes leads to accidents. All three
depend greatly on how they are handled. . .
Tax the bachelor to help support homeless women,
but do not suppress him.1

In 1827 a “highly numerous and respectable” group of men met in a New York City hotel
to organize a protest against a bill before the New York legislature that replaced a current tax on
dogs with one on bachelors. The bill, they claimed, was “onerous and in direct violation of the
great charter of their liberties.”2 In 1854, in Connecticut a legislator argued in the House of
Representatives against a proposed bill to tax bachelors: such a bill was unnecessary, he
claimed, because “There was a tax laid already upon a goose, and any man who had lived 25
years without being married could be taxed under that section[.]”?3
These two bills were not unique. Bachelor taxes—that is, taxes directly placed on
bachelors as bachelors—have existed around the globe and throughout the millennia, dating back
at least to ancient Greece and Rome.4 More recently, diverse countries such as Argentina,
England, France, Germany, Italy, and Turkey enacted bachelor taxes in the 19th and 20th

*©Marjorie E. Kornhauser. John E. Koerner Professor of Law, Tulane University School of Law. Thanks to the
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, ASU for its support in the early stages of this paper and to Jennifer Ortman
also at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, ASU for her research, especially her tabulation of the data. Thanks
also to the participants at the 2011 Critical Perspectives on Tax Policy conference at Emory Law School.
Bachelors are Useful, Boston Globe March 19, 1899 at 47 (Letter from Ella Wheeler Wilcox to New York
Evening World). Wilcox was a popular journalist and poet at the turn of the 20th century. All but forgotten today,
her only line still famous, from a poem titled Solitude, is “Laugh and the world laughs with you;/Weep, and you
weep alone.”
Editorial, Connecticut Courant, February 5, 1827 at 3.
Connecticut Legislature, Senate, House of Representatives, Hartford Courant, June 26, 1854 at 2.
A Spinster Tax? The Washington Post Feb. 26, 1903 at 6 (mentioning Plato proposing tax on unmarried men;
Augustian Rome fining them). See, also

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centuries. In the United States direct bachelor taxes began in colonial times and continued well
into the 20th century, although they declined significantly after the Civil War.5
This Essay examines the “final hurrah” of direct, explicit bachelor taxes in the United
States: 1895-1939. During this period, interest in bachelor taxes increased in comparison to the
previous decades. States and municipalities proposed the taxes with surprising frequency and
occasionally passed them. Usually they were levied on men only. Sometimes, but not always,
they were coupled with taxes on childless couples or connected with provisions (tax or
otherwise) favoring children. Although some contemporaries claimed that bachelor taxes were
concentrated in certain sections of the country—some alleged the west, others the east6—states
in all parts of the country proposed them, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida,
Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, New Jersey,
Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. Although most of the taxes
were head or poll taxes, a few were based on income.7
Income taxes today, of course, sometimes tax bachelors by means of provisions that favor
married taxpayers, such as higher exemptions or lower rates. These indirect taxes are less
obvious than a direct tax on bachelors, but in both cases, the result is to tax bachelors more
heavily than married taxpayers. Astute commentators, however, have noted this less obvious tax
in the United States income tax as early as the Civil War income tax. Similarly, in the 1920s and
1930s, even as some commentators criticized direct bachelor taxes in fascist Italy and Nazi
Germany, others noted the existence of such taxes in the federal income tax. As one writer said
in 1926, the fact that a law is not called “An Act to Impose Special Taxation Upon the
Unmarried” does not mean that such a tax is not imposed on bachelors by means of differential
John G. McCurdy, Citizen Bachelors: Manhood and the Creation of the United States (Ithaca and London Cornell
U Press, 2009) 50.
Editorial, Taxing The Bachelors, Washington Post June 24, 1913 at 6 (many Western states trying to tax bachelors
to encourage marriage)
E.g., Men’s Club to Ask Tax on Bachelors, Chicago Tribune, April 11, 1910 at 5 (proposing both head and
income taxes on unmarried men and women); 35% on Gross Income May be Tax on Bachelors, Chicago Tribune,
Feb. 4, 1920 at 1 (proposed Illinois tax on gross income of bachelors). Other countries placed special income taxes
on bachelors. E.g. John Clayton, Marry or Pay Tax, Mussolini to Bachelors, Chicago Tribune Dec 7, 1926 at 1
(progressive income tax on all bachelors in Italy between the ages of 25 and 65); Bachelorhood Taxed New York
Times March 15, 1925 at X20 (Male and female bachelors in Bulgaria will pay income tax of 30% higher than
married couples when 30 years old. “The new law aims to augment the revenue of the State of increase the
population and to discourage immorality.”); Income tax increase of 20% on income, Levies Tax on Bachelors,
Washington Post May 11 1915 at 13 (bachelor men and women over 28 in the German town of Reichenberg pay
additional progressive income tax: pay 5% on income less than $5000 rising to 18% on incomes over $2500); Single
Blessedness Costly, Boston Globe Nov 27, 1913 at 8 (France planning larger income tax on both bachelors and

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exemption and tax rates.8 In the 1930s, the income taxation of families at the national level
increasingly gained greater attention, especially the focus on whether to enact mandatory joint
returns. Bachelor taxes, on the other hand, were practically obsolete by the end of the decade.

Letter to editor “Our Own Tax on Bachelors” New York Times, December 15, 1926 at 26. See, also:: Taxation
Article No. IX: Income Taxes New York Times Aug. 26, 1865 at 2 ( equity requires that “the single man would
have to contribute [in taxes] a little more freely for the privilege of living as a bachelor”); Editorial, Taxing The
Bachelors, Washington Post June 24, 1913 at 6 (1st income tax bill under the 16th amendment taxes bachelors more
heavily); Penalizing the Family Slacker, [from Cincinnati Commercial Tribune] in What Other Papers Say, The
Washington Post, Mar 9, 1922 at 6; Bachelors and Bananas, Literary Digest, July 5, 1913 at 5; Ask Bonus For
Babies, Los Angeles Times, June 23, 1913 at I1 (exemption rates of 1913 income tax bill discriminate against
spinsters as well as bachelors). But see, letter to the Editor, Lays a Heavier Burden on Couples Living Together,
New York Times, Dec. 6, 1913 at 10 (income tax is “race suicide” because penalizes married couples with children
because they get only a $400 exemption while two single people living alone get $600 together). Editorial Points,
Boston Globe, July 16, 1919 at 10 (exemptions in MA income tax bill burden bachelor). But see Tax Married Man,
and Not Bachelor, Chicago Tribune Oct 21, 1915 at 1 (Prof. Joseph French Johnson, dean of the school of
commerce, accounts, and finance of New York university, in speaking about proposal to impose income tax in New
York said that shouldn’t give married man with children tax preference because one of causes of the war in Europe
is its “anti-race suicide” practices which lead to overpopulation). Accord, Tax Married Men Most To Check
Matrimony, Prof. Johnson Urges, Washington Post Oct 21, 1915 at 4 and Higher Tax On Married Men, Boston
Globe (1872-1922); Oct 21, 1915; pg. 1, and Blames War Upon Marriage, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 21, 1914 at I1
(married taxpayer shouldn’t get break because want to discourage over-population.).Mar 9, 1922 at 6 bachelor is
penalized in income tax because he has no exemptions for wife and children); “Exchequers Prefer Bachelors in
Topics Of the Times, New York Times Jun 7, 1930 at 9 (“In virtually every country, as a matter of fact, the
unmarried man carries an extra burden under the fiscal laws. He may be stigmatized directly as a bachelor or may
be hit indirectly by the exemptions granted to married men and heads of families.”); Footnotes On A Week's
Headlines New York Times, Jun 15, 1930; Pg. E7; Bachelorhood Causes Are Debated by Women, Washington Post,
July 21, 1927 at 3 (higher exemption for single taxpayers urged at national convention of Federation of Business and
Professional Women’s Clubs, noting that 75% of unmarried business women support some family member); Taxing
Sterility, Barron's (1921-1942); Jun 13, 1927 at 1 (United States taxes unmarried and childless more because they
get no extra exemptions); Tax On Unmarried Would Burden Professions Most, New York Times Mar 15, 1925 at
X14 (burden of United States ‘disguised bachelor tax” falls mostly on the professional classes.) William P. Helm, Jr.
What The New Tax Law Means, The Washington Post Jun 18, 1924 at 13 (“Uncle Sam figures, apparently, that it is
worth $2.50 a month to such an individual to remain single.”); Tax On Unmarried Would Burden Professions Most
New York Times 1925 at 14 (Columbia University sociology professor and author of the chapter the Family and Its
Function in the 1930 Recent Social Trends, noting that the higher exemption in the income tax is a “disguised
bachelor tax.”
A professor of Economics at University of Illinois proposed funding old age pensions (he assumed the new
social security tax would be declared unconstitutional) with a graduated income tax on unmarried people and
childless couples. “Dr. Dickinson defended this proposal on two grounds. The security act is the first Am measure
attempting to distinguish beneficiaries on a biological basis, he said. Because of that, he urged, it is socially
desirable to lighten the burden on those members of society who are already contributing to the future of the race by
raising children, and increase the tax burden on those who have dodged that responsibility. Furthermore, he added,
experience shows that those persons who have no children are the ones most likely to require support by the state
when they reach old age.” Offers Age Plan to Obviate Huge U.S. Money Pool, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 28, 1936 at
In the 1920s there were a few income taxes proposed that explicitly taxed bachelors. 35% on Gross
Incomes May Be Tax on Bachelors, Chicago Tribune Feb 4, 1920 at 1 (proposing constitutional amendment in
Illinois subjecting bachelors older than 35 to a 35% tax); In 1923 the Massachusetts the Commissioner of
Corporations and taxation urged the legislature to enact a tax “on bachelors and spinsters in comfortable
circumstances to make up for the money lost to the State by the law of last year that extended income tax
exemptions of parents having more than two children. The bill would tax incomes exceeding $1500, instead of the

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Unlike the well-told story of the income tax’s indirect bachelor taxes through marriage
preferences, the story of explicit direct bachelor taxes has been neglected. This obscurity is
perhaps to be expected. After all, since the 1940s the notion of explicitly taxing bachelors
simply for being bachelors has been all but forgotten, and since at least the late 1800s these taxes
were frequently greeted with hilarity or sarcasm when they were proposed and occasionally even
called “freaks.” The few taxes that were actually enacted into law were, as one reporter observed
in 1907 (a peak period for such bills), soon forgotten and of little influence. 9 Given this history,
it would seem that bachelor taxes have rightly been ignored, since they appear to have made little
mark when proposed and none on the present.
I say “appear” because this is a superficial view of explicit bachelor taxes. Despite the
hilarity these bills encountered, despite their high rejection rate and despite the ineffectualness of
those that did pass, there is a sober side to bachelor taxes. Proponents of the taxes viewed them
seriously and even some contemporary commentators, who did not favor them, still recognized
that seriousness.10 Moreover, the seriousness expressed in this earlier time period has not
disappeared, but rather, is expressed today, slightly transformed, in the battles about the proper
income tax treatment of marriage and the family.

present tax in excess of $2000.” Long Wants More Taxes on Bachelors And Spinsters, Boston Globe Feb 2, 1923 at
The Course of Legislation, Chicago Tribune Jan 26, 1907; pg. 8. See, Freak Laws, Boston Globe Feb 25, 1900 at
47 (bachelor bills are freak bills).
Badger State Bachelors May Pay for Bliss, Chicago Tribune March 18, 1921 at 2 (bachelor tax on men in
Wisconsin “started as a joke has provoked more letters to the editors of Wisconsin papers than any other legislative
proposal, and promises to be taken so seriously that it will pass.”); “Untaxing pater Familias” in Topics Of The
Times. New York Times Jul 29, 1921; at 8 (“The tax on bachelors certainly is warranted by every claim of economics
and sociology. No service to the State is half so vital as that rendered by the father of a family, yet he has not only
to support his wife and children but is taxed directly on his income and indirectly on every item of food and clothing
bought for those dependent on him. The greater his service to the State, the more the State sets him back
The people who proposed the bills usually took the bills seriously, although some seemed to propose them
simply to accommodate constituents. See, e.g. $50 Tax on Bachelors, Washington Post, July 28, 1911, at 1 (Georgia
state senator seriously proposing bachelor bill with money going to schools). Although many news articles reported
bachelor bills in a humorous vein, others noted an underlying serious purpose. See, e.g., A Vicious Special Tax
Proposition, The Washington Post (1877-1922); Jan 22, 1901 at 6. (some western states discussing bachelor taxes
“with more or less seriousness) Trying To Tax Bachelors, The Washington Post); Feb 5, 1907 at 11 (bachelor tax
bill proposed in Delaware started as a joke but became serious); May Tax All Bachelors, Washington Post March 3,
1911 at 1 (Minnesota Legislature Seriously Considering $5 yearly levy on them?). Tax Bachelors Here, Washington
Post Dec. 15, 1913 at 1 (Rep. Borland D.-Mo) favoring a tax on bachelors in the district of Columbia similar to
successful one in Missouri; it would raise revenues and help the institution of marriage)Charles Alma Byers, The
United States Surplus of Bachelors Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1913 at II4 (though he thinks these taxes would not
work, he acknowledged “every year or so the Legislature of some State or other seems to seriously consider the
adoption of an act to give up his ‘single blessedness’”

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This seriousness has several facets. First, not surprisingly when dealing with taxation, is
a need for revenue. This need was mentioned in connection with bachelor taxes in United States
and abroad, especially in Europe, after World War I.11 As one reporter said in 1935, in the
context of Mussolini’s bachelor taxes, but applicable to any time or place: “When politicians and
statesmen have taxed everything and everybody they can lay their hands on and still want more
money, as they always do, the cry usually goes up, ‘Let’s tax old bachelors.’”12
But why tax bachelors instead of other people or things? What made them such easy
targets of taxation? Some supporters of bachelor taxes in the early 20th century based their
support on theoretical tax grounds. Some presented equitable arguments, such as bachelors were
not paying their fair share of taxes, which at that time consisted primarily of indirect taxes.
Bachelors paid a smaller proportion of these than their married peers because they purchased
fewer goods since they bought only for themselves and not their families. Sometimes the
rationale, as in earlier bachelor taxes in the United States and elsewhere, was that bachelors had a
greater ability to pay since they were not supporting a family. (Some, however, argued that
bachelors remained bachelors because they were too poor to marry).
Some based their support on a more general theory of civic obligation that dated to earlier
times. Men owed various duties to the state that could be satisfied in various ways. Married

In United States, see, e.g. W.B. Ker, To Make Men Wed, Boston Globe, Aug. 1, 1909 at SM 4( Texas would raise
$2 million annually and Missouri $50,0000); Heavy Tax To Help Cupid, Chicago Tribune, Aug. 7, 1907 at 3 (tax
would bring in “big revenue or few bachelors”); Lost His Nerve, Washington Post, Feb. 5, 1907 at 8 (Illinois
representative thought about taxing bachelors to raise money; Oh, Bachelors! One’s Already Paid That Tax, Los
Angeles Times April 11, 1934 at 8 (tax advocated by Director of Finance as new revenue); It is Always the
Daughters Who Look After Old parents, Boston Globe April 22, 1934 at B2 (bachelor tax on men and women is one
way to raise revenue in Mass; Michigan is finding it successful).
Bachelor taxes to raise revenues flourished abroad after World War I. see, e.g. Dorothy Dix,
Everybody's Hand Against the Poor Bachelor Boston Globe Oct 16, 1932; at A50 (Irish Free State taxing bachelors
for revenue is “merely following the example of numerous other governments”); Tax On Bachelors For Italian Baby
Fund, Boston Globe Apr 16, 1933 at A37; John MacCormac, Taxes League State Adopted by Austria, New York
Times, Oct. 4, 1931 at 17 (bachelor tax part of other taxes to rasie money to balance budget as required by League of
Nations); Brazil to Levy Bachelor Tax, Los Angeles Times, May 21, 1933 at 4 (purpose is to raise revenue not
increase marriage); Bachelorhood Taxed, New York Times, March 15, 1925 at X20 (tax in Bulgaria on both male
and female bachelors is to “augment the revenue of the State....[and] increase the population and to discourage
immorality.”); Greece Taxes Bachelors, Los Angeles Times, July 24, 1929 at A20 (tax would increase revenue and
“encourage matrimony”);
Albert Wiggam, Plans To Tax Bachelors Are Fraught With Peril, Boston Globe Sep 8, 1935 at A45. Accord, L.H.
Robbins, Bachelors Have Paid High For Single Blessedness, New York Times Jan 16, 1927 at SM10 (Has cartoon
on top with caption ”Across the Record of History Runs the Bachelor Hotly Pursued by the tax Gatherer”).; In
Chase Of The Celibate, New York Times Dec 8, 1926; at 26: (Mussolini’s taxing bachelors despite “surplus”
population because he has “raised to a high moral plane. It is [according to Mussolini] the abstract duty of the
citizen to marry and rear children for the State[.]”

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men’s primary duty was supporting wives and children. Since single men, were not burdened
with this obligation, had other duties such as military obligations or taxes.
Yet, fiscal and civic reasons were not the sole, or even the primary, motivation for
bachelor taxes. A 1926 New York Times editorial, for example, baldly stated that even using
“capacity to pay” as the basis for taxation, “the bachelor is eminently taxable . . . . for the
bachelor, from the broadest social viewpoint, is not a productive enterprise. This attitude
reflected an underlying normative motivation for bachelor taxes: support for the institution of
marriage.14 This motivation, also present in many earlier bachelor taxes, still exists and finds
expression in the United States (and elsewhere) in tax provisions that give marriage (and
children) bonuses. For example, a 1998 Senate Resolution to begin phasing out the marriage
penalty began with the statement that “Marriage is the foundation of the American society and
the key institution preserving our values.”15 In the debates about the Bush 2001 tax cuts, some
went even further and argued that the tax laws should positively benefit marriage.16 Although
the precise nature of that treatment changes over time and place, the persistence of a preference
for marriage (and therefore against bachelorhood) in the tax system illustrates the interrelation
between taxation and societal values and the consequent futility of searching for an objective
“neutral” tax.

In Chase of the Celibate, New York Times Dec 8, 1926; at 26 But see, W.B. Reddaway Family Endowment
Reconsidered 5 The Review of Economic Studies 123, 125 (1938)(in discussing British income tax saying that
making allowances for family responsibilities in determining ability to pay does not mean leaving the bachelor
‘worse off than the family man.”)
In 1907, commenting on the current spate of bachelor taxes proposed in at least 12 states, one commentator
observed that despite the “playful intent” of these proposals, they also contained a “serious sentiment” of
encouraging men to marry. [A Tax On Bachelors. Boston Globe Feb 5, 1907 at 10]. Like others, he believed the tax
would not be successful—it would only confirm that bachelorhood was a “luxury” worth paying a tax for.
Nevertheless, many lawmakers and portions of the public clamored for taxes to encourage marriage. In 1921, in the
midst of another spate of state bachelor bills—as well as interest in France’s—a New York Times” column asked
why bachelor taxes were “greeted as a joke[.]” “No service to the State is half so vital as that rendered by the father
of a family,” he claimed. He stated that the increased “tendency” in both Europe and the United States “to tax those
who refuse marriage and parenthood and to exempt those who have dependents from the income tax . . . certainly is
warranted by every claim of economics and sociology.” [Untaxing Pater Familias in Topics Of The Times, New
York Times, Jul 29, 1921; at 8.]
S. Cong. Res 86, 105th Cong. (1998).
Congressman Blunt stated, should place a “premium” on marriages—provide a bonus to subsidize them—because
“families and marriage is [sic] something that should be honored.” 147 Cong. Rec.H1300 (March 29, 2001). Others
said that the alleged marriage bonus was in reality a marriage penalty for single earner couples which “penalized
families just because one of the spouses chooses the hard work of the household over the role of breadwinner?”
Senate 146 Cong. Rec. S2673, 106 th 2nd See (April 13, 2000)(Mack). Accord, President’s Tax Relief Proposals:
Tax Proposals Affecting Individuals;: Hearing before the House Comm. On Ways &Means, 107th 1st Sess., March
21, 2001, #107-6 at 34 (Sen. Hutchinson stating need relief for married couples regardless of whether one spouse is
at home).

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This Essay suggests that societal concerns about the institution of marriage and about the
economic and moral health of society were the primary reasons that major American newspapers
increased their coverage of bachelor taxes during the period 1895 through 1939. These concerns,
in turn, were rooted in large social changes that had been occurring over several decades:
urbanization, industrialization, consumerism, population changes, and the changing role of
women. These were global transformations, of course, and sometimes found expression in the
tax treatment of bachelors and marriage in other parts of the world, but the history and culture of
each country influenced the particular expression. In the United States, for example,
immigration and growing conservativism in the face of perceived radicalism were important
drivers of bachelor taxes, whereas in Europe the need for soldiers was more prominent.
Bachelor taxes in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany were the most extreme and well-known
examples of bachelor taxes from this time period.17 Twentieth century American interest in, and

The bachelor taxes in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany—some of the most extreme and well-known examples of
bachelor taxes—illustrate both the commonality of the causes and the particularity of their expression. Both sets of
taxes were combined with express positive rewards for marriage and children. Indeed, the taxes usually paid for the
bonuses. In both Italy and Germany, the bachelor taxes (and marriage incentives) were designed to help ameliorate
a dropping birth rate which, they believed, endangered national security by limiting the size of the military. Michael
S. Teitelbaum & Jay M. Winter, The Fear of Population Decline (Academic Press, Inc.1985) 17; Otto D. Tolischus,
$415,500,000 Is Involved, New York Times, June 2, 1933 at 1 (low birth rate ‘especially dangerous for national
defense.”). In 1939, the French government, concerned about the population increases in Germany and Italy,
submitted a plan to tax bachelors to finance its own proposals to increase population by rewarding marriage, despite
efforts as recently as the late 1920s which seemed to be ineffective. France Draws Up Law to Encourage Larger
Families, Washington Post, July 23, 1939 at X6 and France Seeks Birth Rate Spur Los Angeles Times, July 23,
1939 at 15 (including a plan to give a father one vote for each child, in addition to his own vote); France's Tax On
The Unmarried Fails To Promote Matrimony New York Times Nov. 24, 1929 at X14; Fred Hogue, Social Eugenics,
Los Angeles Times, July 30, 1939; at F19 (letter from a woman saying that women should stop producing men for
the military). See, also, In Chase Of The Celibate, New York Times Dec 8, 1926; at 26: (Mussolini’s taxing
bachelors despite “surplus” population because he has “raised to a high moral plane. It is the abstract duty of the
citizen to marry and rear children for the State[.]”
Some American commentators noted different underlying motives. For example, one 1933 New York
Times article said that the chief aim of the Italian program was the production of soldiers, whereas the German goal
was a broader one of a German economic recovery based on attacking modern women: They were “to be
discouraged out of economic self-support and encouraged back into the business of housewife, producer of children
for the State.” Fascism and Women in Topic of the Times, New York Times, June 3, 1933, at 12. See also Otto D.
Tolischus, Woman's Place In The 'Manly' Nazi State, New York Times Sep 10, 1933 at SM4. Prior to Hitler, the
German Chancellor Henrich Bruening and the Finance Minstier Hermann Deitrich attempted to eliminate part of
the national debt through increased taxes on both unmarried men and women by increasing their income tax rates
and eliminating deductions. Bachelors To Bear Berlin Tax Burden The Washington Post Jun 29, 1930; pg. M11 (“At
present a bachelor with an income of $10,000 a year pays 10 per cent on each $1,000, less 25 per cent. The new
program would make him pay 10 per cent, or $100 on each full $1,000 and in addition he would pay an extra $10
per $1,000 for remaining single.”)
The taxes fit in with Hitler’s attempt to get women back into the home via his “Famous three k’s—Kirche,
Kueche, Kinder (church, kitchen, children)”. Sigrid, Schultz, Aid 150,000 Brides, Chicago Tribune, June 2 1933 at
1. Editorial Back to the Home, Washington Post, June 6, 1933 at 6

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usage of, bachelor taxes never came close to that which occurred in those two countries interest.
Nevertheless, Americans expressed sufficient interest in these taxes that major American
newspapers during this period devoted a surprising amount of space and emotion to detailing
their progress—more so, for example, than occurred in the British papers.

This Essay is neither completely empirical nor completely impressionistic, but a mixture
of the two. It is empirical in that the conclusions rest primarily on an examination of a large
database (seven major United States newspapers), a close reading of all news items (over 700)
about bachelor taxes, and an analysis of those items in terms of various categories such as age
and gender of bachelors taxed, type of tax (poll or income), stated purposes, listed motives, etc. I
then compared the United States news items to those about bachelor taxes in three English and
Irish large newspapers of the same time period. Nevertheless, the Essay ultimately is
impressionistic because, ultimately, I had no confidence in the statistical meaningfulness of the
results of this categorization. The data was just too fuzzy or open to alternative interpretations
for a variety of reasons, including—but definitely not limited to—the fact that many news items
omitted basic information about the tax discussed. Nevertheless, despite the flaws in the data
and data analysis, there is sufficient data to place this Essay above the mere anecdotal.
There are at least five issues regarding the methodology of this paper. The first relates to
definitions of the terms bachelor taxes and treatment in the United States. For the purpose of
this Essay bachelor taxes means a direct, explicit extra tax burden on bachelors for being
bachelors, rather than the more hidden, indirect, or implicit bachelor taxes that exist in income
taxes as the flip side of marriage-friendly provisions (e.g. favorable rates, exemptions). Both
types of tax provisions may be intended to promote marriage but the direct bachelor tax is not
only more explicit but also uses a stick, while a marriage bonus uses a carrot. Treatment of
bachelor taxes in the United States included not just taxes proposed in the United States but also
American comments about bachelor taxes in other countries because such comments reflect
United States attitudes about them.

The American press’s interest in the Italian, German, and other foreign bachelor taxes, reflects (at least in
part), I believe, America’s own interest in bachelor taxes.

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The second issue concerns the databases used. I examined several different types of
databases, but the principal category was newspapers: mainly United States papers, but also the
Irish Times, the London Times, and the Manchester Guardian and Observer, as controls—so to
speak. . The largest database, and source of most of the conclusions of this Essay, consists of
seven major United States newspapers: The Atlanta Constitution, The Boston Globe, The
Chicago Tribune, The Hartford Courant, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and
The Washington Post. Additionally, I examined several more local American newspapers and
some periodicals and books of the era. Newspapers are a good indicator of what topics a general
public found interesting. As commercial enterprises, the content of any newspaper would be
designed to gain as much readership as possible. This would be especially true with items that
were not the main news of the day, but rather secondary stories or filler—a category into which
bachelor taxes often fell. Newspapers in this period, unlike today, had large circulations and
were a main source of information.18 Moreover, the frequency of publication would seem a
more accurate reflection of general, casual public interest than books which were less frequently
published, more expensive, and had a narrower audience.
A quick search of databases containing both general circulation periodicals (e.g.
Harper’s, Literary Digest, North American Review, and Saturday Evening Post) and scholarly
journals (e.g. in fields such as sociology and political science) did not reveal a similar interest in
bachelor taxes.19 Why this is so is not clear. The taxes were not a mainstream concern in
scholarly areas which probably explains the lack of their presence in scholarly articles. A more
thorough search of these periodicals for articles on related topics, such as eugenics, might have
revealed more oblique references to bachelor taxes. Similarly, a deeper search might have
uncovered stories in general circulation magazines about or related to bachelor taxes. The topic
still has some resonance in popular imagination, as I discovered in a 2000 Harlequin Historical
Romance book by Carolyn Davidson, titled “The Bachelor Tax”
The third methodological issue concerns race and sexual orientation. The bachelor taxes
on their face applied to all bachelors. Since the vast majority of the United States bachelor taxes
were never enacted, it is impossible to know whether they would have been differentially

See, e.g. Malcolm M. Willey and Stuart A. Rice, The Agencies of Communication in Recent Social Trends (1933)
at 167, 203-206.
I searched the following periodical databases: ABI/Inform, Academic Premier, JSTOR, Periodical Archives
Online, and Readers’ Guide Retrospective.

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enforced, despite their facial neutrality. The fact that the motivation for some of these taxes was
a concern about marriage and propagation rates of a certain type of young people—and not the
general population—suggests this might have occurred if the bills had passed. Some
commentators believe that discussions of bachelors and bachelor taxes are frequently veiled
disapproval of homosexuals.20 Newspaper references to bachelors spending too much time and
money in clubs and other frivolous ways may have been code words to some extent, but I cannot
draw any inferences because this new type of life style applied more generally to many young
men.21 Since there are no other direct or even indirect references to homosexuality, this Essay
does not consider the issue.
As to race, this Essay confines itself to newspapers addressed to a general—and therefore
primarily white—population. I did examine newspapers in several African-American
newspapers and found very few articles on the topic.22 To the extent they existed, they mirrored
to some extent the articles in the white press; indeed some were excerpted from general (white)
oriented papers. I can only hypothesize that this population was not as concerned about the issue
(or expressed it in other ways) as the standard white press. I have not looked at papers aimed at
certain segments of the populations, such as Italians, who were at that time often referred to in
terms of race, not ethnicity.
The fourth methodological issue concerns why I chose to examine the time period 1895-
1939. The answer is that the 40+ years in this period covers great societal changes resulting
from urbanization, industrialization consumerism, population changes, and the changing role of
women. The year 1895 is a good starting place because although these changes all began as
early as the Civil War, they did not accelerate until the late 19th century. Moreover, newspapers
do not with any frequency mention bachelor taxes until 1895.23 From then until the 1939 stop
date, bachelor taxes are mentioned every year—sometimes only a couple of times; sometimes
over 30 times. It is not clear why the number of articles about bachelor taxes increased in 1895.

McCurdy at 9, mentioning Foucault; McCurdy at 156-7 discussing George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender,
Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male world, 1890-1940 (NY: NYU press 1998, 52-62]
John McCurdy, Citizen Bachelors: Manhood and the Creation of the United States (Ithaca & London: Cornell U
Press 2009) 156-7; George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male
world, 1890-1940 (NY: NYU press 1998, 52-62]
I also looked at the Baltimore Afro-American Press (from 1895), the Chicago Defender (beginning in 1910), and
the New York Amsterdam News (from 1922).
1895 is also a good start date from a practical standpoint because it is only then that all 7 papers appear in
electronic databases.

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Perhaps the societal changes had not reached sufficient levels to produce the interest in bachelor
taxes. Other events in the time period may have added to the pressures: the closing of the
American frontier and immigration, for example. Moreover, the societal tensions were
undoubtedly exaggerated by the pessimistic mood caused by economic depression (beginning
with the Panic of 1893) and a series of labor strikes in 1894, especially the Pennsylvania coal and
the Pullman workers.
The Essay could have stopped in 1930 because by then societal and economic conditions
and issues were significantly different from 1895. Among other things, the income tax had
become more central to taxation, although poll taxes still existed. Nevertheless, I have included
the decade of the 1930s as a “transition” decade. In part, this is because the newspapers still
discuss bachelor taxes as explicit taxes with some frequency, although generally in the context of
Italy and Germany. Moreover, from a tax perspective, by the end of the 1930s, the focus on
bachelor taxes in the United States has clearly shifted from explicit taxes to the more indirect tax
emanating from the income tax treatment of married and single taxpayers. Finally, by 1939 the
threat of war and new economic and social conditions were producing new tensions in society
and on the tax system.
The final issue concerns the meaning of the newspaper articles about bachelor taxes. In
other words, what, if anything, do these 700 plus articles really tell us: how much historical
weight should they carry? On the one hand, it can be argued: not much. These articles, many of
them short “filler” or just jokes, are not supported in other printed materials and often merely
reflect caricatures of bachelors, not realities. Moreover, the caricatures and insults they hurled at
bachelors were not new. Papers during the Revolutionary War period described bachelors in
similar terms, such as lazy, loveless, too picky; even then, the charges were not new.24 On the
other hand, the consistency of the charges, and the fact that their intensity often increased in
times of unrest (such as the revolutionary war period) suggests that they expressed some of the
social uncertainties in times of change. Moreover, American newspaper discussions of bachelor
taxes differ distinctly from British newspaper discussions. Not only do American papers contain
many more articles about bachelor taxes (domestic and foreign), but the substance of the articles
is generally more emotional rather than merely informative.
Results Summary

McCurdy at 181.

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During the period, 1895-1935 there were over 700 news items on bachelor taxes in the
seven major United States newspapers. Some were long articles and some only a sentence or
two—mere filler. Some were humorous; some were serious and some were both at the same
time. Even filler items are meaningful, however, because such items are used only because they
strike a chord within the general population that reads them—especially when so many filler
items are on the same topic. The same is true for the humorous items. Not all of the items were
about the United States but a newspaper would only mention a foreign bachelor tax if it thought
its readership would find it interesting. Moreover, many of the articles about bachelor taxes in
other countries referred to them in the United States taxes or made comments about their
The items in the American newspapers differed significantly from those in the English
and Irish press. The latter items were primarily actual news items rather than anecdotes or jokes.
The taxes discussed were mainly income taxes and not poll taxes. Moreover, the tone and
content of the articles were rational and logical examinations of provisions that affected bachelor
and married taxpayers differently—such as exemption amounts. This treatment was quite
different from the emotionally laden (whether in seriousness or jest) American items.
The number, content, and tone of items in United States newspapers about bachelor taxes
indicate that Americans had a continuing—albeit modest—interest in the subject, especially
when contrasted to the items in the English and Irish papers. This Essay suggests that this
interest sprang largely from underlying concerns about the state of society, generally, and
especially marriage rather than from revenue needs. United States bachelor tax bills and laws in
this period, then, were primarily expressive in purpose rather than instrumental.
1. Background: changing society generally
The fundamental changes in American society that began in the late 19 th century and
continued into the first third of the 20th century are too large to describe here but have been
thoroughly documented elsewhere.25 By the end of World War I, the ways Americans lived,
worked, and thought had changed dramatically. The switch from the economic prosperity of the
1920s to economic depression in the 1930s did not halt the transformations. More people

For a contemporary comprehensive summary of the changes, see, Recent Social Trends in the United States,
Report of the President’s research committee on social trends. (foreword by Herbert Hoover). (1934).

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performed wage labor (rather than agricultural work) and more lived in cities. Between 1890
and 1940, the percentage of the United States population living in urban areas expanded from
about one-third of the population to 56.5% in 1940.26 Both changes weakened the traditional
patriarchal family. Wage labor meant that sons were less likely to follow their fathers’
occupations, women were more likely to work, and children were less dependent on their parents
because they earned their own money and often did not even live with them. The cities
weakened traditional norms because they provided many recreational opportunities (not always
seen as morally upright) for people outside the family home, including opportunities for young
men and women to meet casually and un-chaperoned. Women’s changing societal roles also
weakened (but did not break) patriarchal bonds. Increasingly, women had their own money and
independence as they worked outside the home, went to college, and in 1920, obtained the vote.
Like the rest of society, but even more so, women went from producers of goods to consumers of
goods, and increasingly there were more goods to consume.
The need for wage labor, coupled with the ability to cross the Atlantic more swiftly and
cheaply, also contributed to the increased numbers of immigrants in the United States. As
immigrants poured into the cities, many people associated growing urban problems such as over-
crowding, crime, disease, and poverty with them. There were other sources of negative views of
immigrants in this time period. Immigrants, for example, competed with native-born whites for
jobs, and many believed that immigrants depressed wages because of their willingness to work
for less money. Moreover, many saw immigrants as radicals inciting conflict between labor and
capital. America has a long history of disliking immigrants on the grounds that they were
radicals, dating back at least to the Alien and Sedition Acts. This aversion, however, increased
during this period due to the frequency of labor strikes (often led by foreign-born workers)—
especially violent ones such as the 1886 Haymarket riots in Chicago, the Pullman railroad car
strike of 1894 and the Russian revolution. This distrust of immigrants was a potent factor (often
implicit rather than explicit) motivating support for bachelor taxes, as described later.
All these modern forces—industrialization, urbanization, consumerism, increased
immigration (especially from more foreign places), women working, and growing

1990 Census of Population and Housing, Population and Housing Unit Counts United States, publication 1990
CPH-2-1; Table 4, Population: 1790 to 1990 p5 at That
number jumped to almost 40% (39.6%), in 1900; by 1920 slightly more than one-half of Americans (51.2%) lived in
urban areas.

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conservativism—created dislocations and stressed many traditional aspects of society, including

the institution of marriage. Many believed that the new societal trends diminished the
desirability of marriage and led to a decline in the number of marriages and an increase in the
number of bachelors.
2. Marriage, changing society, and bachelor taxes, generally
Bachelors, the articles frequently explained, neglected their civic duties, although those
duties often were not specified.27 Sometimes, it seemed they simply meant a monetary duty to
pay their fair share of taxes. There were two rationales for this. Sometimes it meant that equity
demanded bachelors pay more taxes because they had more disposable income than did married
men who were responsible for their families. Other times, the fair share rationale meant that
bachelors were remiss in this duty because they did not pay enough (indirect) taxes because as
bachelors they did not spend enough.28 Neither rationale necessarily implied a punitive intent.
Rather, like many earlier colonial bachelor taxes, they simply may have reflected a sense that
bachelors and married men had different civic duties. Married men fulfilled their civic duty
primarily by raising and supporting families; bachelors fulfilled theirs through higher taxes and
military service.29
Frequently, however, proponents justified bachelor taxes on the grounds that bachelors
failed moral duties as well as civic ones. Indeed, they often conflated the two. As Wheeler, the
UC president said, bachelors “don’t take part in the normal work of society. They are
abnormalities and abnormalities should pay taxes. The unit in society and the state is the

Why Bachelors Should Not be Taxed” in Editor’s Diary, in N. Am Review Feb 1, 1907 at 332 (“generally
speaking,” the rationale for taxing bachelors “has rested upon the Spartan principle that it is the duty to the state of
every citizen to rear up legitimate children, although there is room for suspicion that, in some instances, the hen-
pecked married men who made the laws felt that bachelors should pay well for happiness that seemed to them
exceptional.”); “Bachelor Tax to be Tested, Boston Globe August 18, 1907 at 11 (NJ assessor taxing bachelors to
“make single men take up a portion of the burdens carried by the family men.”); Focus Eagle Eye On Unlucky
Bachelors, Los Angeles Sep 18, 1921 at V10 Congressman Osborne stating that married men will continue to have a
larger income tax exemption in the federal income tax than single people because “bachelors should be taxed so that
they will go and do their duty by their country and get married.””.
See, e.g., $50 Tax On Bachelors, The Washington Post, Jul 28, 1911 at 1. (Georgia state senator favoring the tax
because “The bachelor has lived on the fat of the land long enough. . . . He has squandered his substance in riotous
living and the State and the schools are getting nothing from him except the miserly poll tax. If he won’t marry he
ought to be taxed heavily.” And the revenue from the tax would be paid into the school fund.); Topics Of The
Times. New York Times Jul 29, 1921; at 8; P.W. Wilson. Horne Hits Bachelor Tax New York Times Dec 27, 1925;
pg. XX5.
McCurdy 52-58; 177.

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family.”30 Marriage would strengthen the country economically. Bachelors tended to be

frivolous and not work as hard as married men. Yet, they also did not spend as much as married
men because they did not have to provide for wives and children. As a result, bachelors did not
adequately stimulate economic growth.
Bachelors did more than endanger the economic health of the nation, however, because
marriage, according to many, was a sacred institution and a pillar of society. By refusing to
marry, bachelors therefore failed their civic, moral, and spiritual duties. In 1911, for example,
the Boston Baptist minister Reverend Herbert S. Johnson preached the importance of marriage.
All sacrifices made to marry were useful, he said, because in this way “a man can become a good
citizen and a useful agent of the Lord in bettering the world.”31 According to this view, taxes on
bachelors were both an appropriate punishment for the failure to marry and an incentive to
rectify the situation. Without necessarily disputing the merit of marriage, many contemporary
commentators, disagreed with the effectiveness of these taxes in terms of achieving their goal.
Some noted that the tax was very small and bachelors would prefer to pay it rather than give up
the freedom of their single “blessedness.” Others noted that in some regions where the tax was
proposed it was physically impossible for all bachelors to marry because there were more men
than women.32 Thus, although the taxes might succeed in raising revenues, many concluded the
taxes would fail to promote marriage.
The improbability that bachelor taxes would succeed in increasing marriages, however,
only reinforces this Essay’s hypothesis that a bachelor tax was primarily an expressive bill (or
law). It communicated society unease about rapidly changing lifestyles and attitudes during this
period in particular a) a growing consumer society meant young people preferred spending
money on themselves rather than using it in marriage, b) the changing role of women resulting in
more women focused on work and education rather than simply marriage, and c) changing social
mores including a new “freedom of the sexes” allowing male-female companionship without
marriage and an increased number of divorce (followed by alimony) which worried men
contemplating marriage. Dorothy Dix, the popular reporter and advice columnist, expressed

Wants A Tax On Bachelors, Chicago Tribune (1872-1922); Feb 26, 1905; at 1 (statement by President Benjamin
Ide Wheeler, President of University of California).
‘Tax and Hanging’, Boston Globe February 27, 1911 at 8.
‘No Wives For 15,300,000 Men’, Chicago Tribune Apr 7, 1901; 55 (census shows there were 1 million more men
than women in United States) L.H. Robbins, Bachelors Have Paid High For Single Blessedness, New York Times
Jan 16, 1927, SM10 (census showed more men than women so all bachelors couldn’t marry even if wanted to).

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these concerns so well in 1927 when she wrote that many men did not think the cost of marriage
was worth the price
Like Mr. Kipling’s hero, they decided that, in the last
analysis, ‘a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar’s a
smoke.’ Also the golf and clubs and good clothes and the
privilege of going and coming as one pleases are a certain
and never failing source of pleasure, while a wife is a
highly speculative risk.”33
Dix was not alone in focusing on male bachelors. Most of the critiques of bachelors and
the proposals to tax them focused solely on men because society viewed males as the dominant
actors in marriage. Some critics, however, also wanted to tax women bachelors (spinsters) and a
few taxes applied to both sexes. One grounds for this—argued by some men and women—was
equality. If women wanted equality then they should be taxed equally. One woman, however,
pointed out that if workingwomen were paid as much as men, a bachelor tax to support old maids
(a common purpose) wouldn’t be needed; they would be able to support themselves when they
grew old without the help of men.34

Dorothy Dix, Why We Have A Bumper Crop Of Bachelors Boston Globe Dec 16, 1927, 43. (noting that income
tax statistics “show an alarming increase in the number of bachelors who are amply able to marry if they wanted
to”). In his Sermon the Baptist minister Reverend Herbert S. Johnson, in his sermon said the decline in marriages
was due in part to the rising cost of living which made men feel they couldn’t afford to marry. ‘Tax and Hanging’,
supra n. 32. In 1911, Mrs. Charlotte Smith proposed a tax on bachelors to provide for spinsters and to encourage
men to marry. She claimed that statistics showed that 60% of eligible men in Massachusetts never married,
especially men of “small means” because “in order to be popular at the club now it is necessary for a man to have
one or two automobiles a yacht, and two or three mistresses, but no marriage.” Urges $5 Tax on Bachelors, Boston
Globe, Feb.15, 1911, 1. Smith continued to propose a bachelor tax for several years.
Some proponents of the tax believed that if would encourage marriage and thereby reduce the state’s
burden to care for orphans and the poor, including old bachelors who can’t support themselves, and women who
could no longer get jobs because businesses preferred young women.. Mrs. Smith stated that the tax would lower
the number of men “who go around making love to young girls.” ‘Tax of $5 Urged for Bachelors’, Boston Globe,
March 12, 1912, 12.
Many noted that changing social standards allowed men and women to socialize without marriage. E.g. Tax
and Hanging, Boston Globe February 27, 1911 at 8. (the “elimination of much of the old-fashioned house life which
gave more favorable opportunities for courting than are now offered.” Cf., Hall coeducation allowed men and
women to mix freely.
Carlyle Holt, Women Willing To Pay Poll Tax If The Men Do, Boston Globe Feb 18, 1923 at 1 (although
responses to a proposal that Massachusetts assess a poll tax on women varied, some were favorable: “From the
independent women’s point of view, they should pay the tax, for they are just as responsible, as citizens to bear the
burdens of the expenses of government as men.”); Proposed Girls Do the Wooing, Boston Globe, Feb. 28, 1911 at 1.
Topic of the Times, New York Times, March 16, 1909 at 8 (bachelor women as well as men ought to be taxed under
Maine’s bill “when there is so much talk about equal responsibilities as well as equal rights for both sexes, it is hard
to see why the women who avoid the matrimonial yoke should not be fined as heavily as the men.”).

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Others wanted to tax women bachelors because they blamed women as well as men for
the alarming rate of bachelordom.35 Societal changes not only made it easier for men and
women to socialize without marrying, but, they argued, some women were reluctant to marry.
Women wanted to marry only men with enough money to provide sufficient consumer goods,
such as the pretty dresses working women were buying for themselves with their wages.
Perhaps, even more alarmingly, women were choosing to go to college and/or work instead of
marrying. Some were even making more money than men! The result was, some believed, that
men didn’t have enough money to marry or were repelled or frightened by the new woman and
did not want to marry them.36
Some bachelor tax proposals revealed this societal unease about women working. A
1907 bill in Chicago proposed tax single men over 30 and allocated the revenues to unmarried
working women “who will make oath that they are willing to marry, but have not had any
chances.”37 A 1928 bill in the New York legislature even proposed taxing the incomes of
married women who worked (and whose husbands earned more than $2,000 a year) in order to
ease unemployment (of men obviously) and cause them to “manage their homes, rear their
children and make better companions to their husbands.”38 The bill provided an exemption of
$500 for each minor child. The purpose of the exemption was not mentioned; it could have
reflected an ability to pay theory or it could have reflected a concern about the number of

E.g., Oppose Florida Bachelor Tax Bill, New York Times, May 20, 1925 at 39; Editorial Points, Boston Glove,
May 15, 1925 at 20. Will Not Tax Bachelors, Chicago Tribune June 12, 1907 at 2 (Baltimore bill proposed to tax
both single men and women); Ft. Dodge Unwed Lambast Tax Law, Chicago Tribune Mar 27, 1907 at 7 (principal of
girls’ school says it would be a “horrid thing to pass this law and force women who had dedicated their lives to
serious things into unwelcome matrimony. It was robbing them of their rights and liberty”); Urges $5 Tax On
Bachelors, Boston Globe Feb 15, 1911; pg. 1 (some favored bill if amended to tax women as well as men because
women also sometimes at fault because of their extravagance or because they go and marry “lords and dukes with
titles” instead of American bachelors).
Cf., “Why Bachelors Should Not be Taxed, 1/28, 1907 in Editor’s Diary, in 184 N. Am Review Feb 1,
1907 at 332 [issue 608] (only women should be taxed since they can always marry somebody, but men who want to
marry are often turned down).
With girls “having careers, and college educations, and well-paid jobs, and paying a larger percentage of income
tax than single men, that if the girls doesn’t do the proposing there won’t be much matrimony.” Alma Whitaker,
Leap Year Standards, Los Angeles Times, July 15, 1928 at K15. (in the past, men did not propose to a woman
because she was not ‘romantically attractive enough’ now “it is much more likely to indicate that the gentleman has
not quite got the nerve to ask the lady of his heart to enter into a 40-60 partnership, or a 30-70 one, with himself
represented by the lower numeral.”). See also, Chapin Hall, What Goes On? Los Angeles Times Jul 17, 1939 at A
(in the depression, more states were limiting the ability of married women to work).
Heavy Tax to Help Cupid, Chicago Tribune, August 7, 1907 at 3.( it excluded “chances to marry men mentally or
physically deficient”).
Taxes For Other People, in Topics Of The Times. New York Times Jan 28, 1928; pg. 8. (the article noted that
even if a women doesn’t work, she may not be a bitter mother; she might play bridge instead of working which
would not increase income, income tax, or “domestic felicity.”)

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children couples were having. A 1933 editorial said that the United States should not tax
bachelors or pay bonuses to newlyweds, as was occurring in Germany, but it did note that “a
little intelligent thinking on this problem by the women of America might speed the country on
its way to recovery. If the women who are not compelled to work by economic necessity would
go back to their normal function as home-makers, the unemployment problem would be almost
The bottom line was bachelors—primarily men—were choosing not to marry and people
feared the consequences for society.40 Bachelors, many believed, were selfish, frivolous, and
even “moral degenerates.”41 Respected people in established positions held these beliefs, not
just marginal men or embittered old spinsters. In 1905, for example, President Benjamin Ide
Wheeler of University of California called bachelors “bandits, guerrillas, and outcasts.”42 In
1912 a columnist called bachelors not only irreligious, selfish but lunatics and anarchists
threatening to destroy the entire human race:
Celibacy is in reality a form of domestic anarchy. The anarchist
would throw off the necessary restraints and discipline of civic life;
the bachelor is keeping away from the wholesome restraints and
discipline of wedded existence. Men who persist thus with a
hardening of the heart often finish up with a softening of the brain.
Anarchists are all mad-bachelors to a great extent. Therefore, tax
him for his anarchy!43

3. Bachelor taxes, population concerns, and race suicide

Editorial Back to the Home, Washington Post, June 6, 1933 at 6.
Introducing a bill in Connecticut to tax single men over 40 of $100, “Representative Standish said that many
citizens of his town feared the consequences of the decreasing number of marriages which they believed resulted
from men purposefully avoiding matrimony. Make Men Marry Globe 2/16/1901 at 6.
Editorial Points, Globe 8/14/1902 at 6 (statement by Dr Andrews of the university of Nebraska); Business Women
Hit Bachelors as Selfish; Others Ascribe Condition to Want of Romance, New York Times July 21, 1927 at 8.
(Martha Connole, a lawyer at Federation of Business and Prof Women’s Club convention said: “Bachelors are
selfish . . . They’re afraid of assuming the obligations, financial and spiritual, of marriage. Women have a deeper
sense of moral responsibility than men.” ); Albert Wiggam, Plans To Tax Bachelors Are Fraught With Peril, Boston
Globe Sep 8, 1935 at A45 (reason to tax bachelors is usually given as “If a man is too selfish to marry and support a
women he should be taxed so as to lighten the burden on married men; he should be compelled to help some less
selfish man to marry and take care of the woman whom he should have married and supported.”).
Wants A Tax On Bachelors, Chicago Tribune (1872-1922); Feb 26, 1905; at 1 (statement by President Benjamin
Ide Wheeler, President of University of California).
Alice Wheatley, Tax The Bachelors! Los Angeles Times, Sep 21, 1912 at II4.

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At the most elemental level, many believed that bachelors were failing their most
elemental duty to a state. States, the argument went, needed a healthy population. Therefore, by
failing to marry—and produce enough children—bachelors (especially men) were threatening
the survival of the state. Measuring population growth is complex due to both complications in
reporting and in the actual computation of the statistics. Populations can increase even as the
rate of increase declines; birth rates can be deceptive because they depend, in part on the
composition of the population (how many women of child bearing age for example).
Nevertheless, there were some general trends in the United States. For example, although birth
rates had been declining since the 19th century, the population in the United States consistently
grew; the rate of that growth, however, had been declining since 1860. The rate of natural
growth (births minus deaths, ignoring migration), however, showed a greater decline especially
after 1890.44 Moreover, although the rate of growth of the white population generally exceeded
that of the black population (at least until 1920), the ethnic composition of the white race had
changed, with the percentage of foreign born (immigrants and their descendants) increasing from
less than 10% in 1850 to almost 15% in 1890.45
The reality of the statistics (and society’s understanding of them), however, was not the
only element driving people’s concerns about population. Concerns about populations fall into
two major categories: concern about the quantity of the population and/or concern about its
quality.46 In Europe, starting with the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the concern was
primarily quantitative. The combination of declining fertility and wars led to smaller populations

Table Aa15-21, Components of Population Growth, by Decade: 1790-2000, Historical Statistics of the United
States, Millennial Edition online at
and Table Aa22-35 - Selected population characteristics–median age, sex ratio, annual growth rate, and number, by
race, urban residence, and nativity: 1790–2000 at
See, generally, Warren S. Thompson & P.K. Whelpton, The Population of the Nation in Volume I Recent Social
Trends(1933) 1-55.
Michael R. Haines, Population Characteristic, in Historical Statistics of the United States, Millennial Edition
online at
Concerns about quantity can relate to either to large or too small a population. In northern Europe and North
America, the concern since about the late 19th century largely has been about too small a population rather than
Malthusian worries about a population too large to be sustainable. But contra, Tax Married Man, and Not Bachelor,
Chicago Tribune Oct 21, 1915 at 1 (Prof. Joseph French Johnson, dean of the school of commerce, accounts, and
finance of New York university, in speaking about proposal to impose income tax in New York said that shouldn’t
give married man with children tax preference because one of causes of the war in Europe is its “anti-race suicide”
practices which lead to overpopulation). Accord, Tax Married Men Most To Check Matrimony, Prof. Johnson
Urges, Washington Post Oct 21, 1915 at 4 and Higher Tax On Married Men, Boston Globe (1872-1922); Oct 21,
1915; pg. 1, and Blames War Upon Marriage, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 21, 1914 at I1.

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generally and especially a paucity of males. This was seen as a national weakness. A large
military (consisting solely of men at that time) was needed to repel aggressors, at the minimum,
and at the maximum so that the nation could expand. Thus, a growing population was seen as a
requisite not just for a strong nation, but for the nation’s survival. This need for “cannon
fodder”47 was especially expressed in the years between the two world wars. Of course,
quantitative and qualitative concerns could co-exist, as illustrated in Nazi Germany where the
need for increased numbers of citizens was coupled with a particular concern for the quality of
its population. Its laws reflected this desire for a larger, more Aryan population. Jews, for
example, were not eligible for the marriage bonuses but they were subject to the bachelor tax.48
The United States also required a larger population, not for cannon fodder, but to fill its
factories and it vast lands. Immigrants traditionally have been welcomed, therefore, not just on
democratic principles, but also because they helped satisfy the economic demand for increased
population—a demand that native-born Americans (no matter how prolific) could not meet. An
American strand of nativism, however, coexists with—and contradicts—this welcoming
immigration policy. By the late 19th century, this nativism contained a racial element opposing
immigrants of non-Anglo-Saxon stock.49 Immigration discussions and actual policies from the
late 19th century onward reflected this nativism. The newspaper items in this period suggest that
the activity regarding bachelor taxes also reflected this nativism—although sometimes it was a
sub-rosa text.
Earlier quotes in this Essay show that the concern about declining marriage and fertility
rates that was often expressed in connection with bachelor taxes was often couched in concern
about falling rates generally. Yet, a more careful examination of the language reveals that the
true focus of concern was middle/upper class native-born white young men and women. The

Editorial, Disarm The Cradle, Boston Globe Feb 13, 1922 at 10. (Ever since universal military service was
invented it has been recognized as true that the Nation which keeps its cradles full will not be embarrassed for
cannon fodder.”). Plans to Tax Bachelors Are Fraught With Peril, Boston Globe, Sept. 8, 1935 at A45 (“Doctor of
Science” Wiggam saying that a bachelor tax was not the scientific way to improve the population but he did hope
that someday “women will have the courage, intelligence and solidarity of organization to inform the statesmen they
will not bring children into the world in order that they may butcher one another on the battlefield.”); Bachelor Tax
Buncombe, Washington Post, March 25, 1911 at 11 (President of National Woman’s Suffrage Association saying
“One of the supposed benefits of wars is that they rid a county of the surplus population. Why should women bear
surplus children to be gotten rid of by wars?”
Jews In Germany Question Subsidy, New York Times, Jun 3, 1933 at 3; Tax Reductions for Jewish Minors
Denied, LAT Nov 6, 1938 at 2.
John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism 1860-1925, 1-21 or generally (2nd edition

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people being chastised for not marrying were primarily people consuming cigars, spending
money on “golf and clubs and good clothes,” [Dix quote above]. They were people choosing to
work rather than marry and people worrying about divorce. This suggests that the wealthier
white middle (especially the upper middle) and upper classes were the true targets of concern.
Some commentators indicated more clearly that the “better” classes were the targets of concern
about falling marriage rates by focusing on the declining marriage rates among the college
educated, who were at that time primarily white and in the upper-middle and upper classes. G.
Stanley Hall, a psychologist and the President of Clark University, for example, believed that
fewer college graduates were marrying because close contact in coeducation disillusioned young
people about the other sex. Moreover, more marriages were occurring later in life and that was a
societal problem:
And late marriages are one of the things which tend to the decay of
civilization. When the normal man reaches 30 and is not married I
begin to think that something is the matter with him. When he is
35 and unmarried I am almost convinced that something is the
matter and begin almost to think it might be well to have a tax on
bachelors. When he reaches 40 and is still unmarried I am
convinced that something is wrong, that the man has neglected his
duty, and should be classed with those who will not fight for their
own country in time of war or pay taxes.”50
Some commentators were even clearer, baldly stating that the problem was the number of
immigrants compared to the number of native born Americans of “quality”. A 1903 Washington
Post editorial wrote that although it was not arguing to bar immigration, it was important to
understand the consequences for America’s future:
Given a steady decline of the birth rate among Americans who
have descended from the best European stocks and a continued
influx of the worst European stocks, with their swarms of children,

Is for Bachelor Tax, Chicago Tribune, July 11, 1903 at 1. See, also Stanley G. Hall & Theodore L. Smith,
Marriage and Fecundity of College Men and Women , Pedagogical Seminary vol 10 pp 275-314 (1903)
Seminary, 10 (1903) p.275

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it must be only a question of years when the latter will dominate

What could be expected of such domination?51
The mere numbers of immigrants, or even the percentage of foreign born–to-native born,
does not explain the increased concern about the decline in marriage and fertility rates among the
“better” classes. After all, in 1860 the proportion of foreign born in the United States was the
highest it would be through 1920 and the percentage of foreign born in the largest cities was
higher than it would ever be.52 A significant backlash against immigration, however, did not
occur until the mid-1880s, triggered by the sheer numbers of immigrants (the height was in
1882) and an economic depression in 1885-86. The severe economic conditions begun during
the Panic of 1893 and lasting until 1897 coupled with the “Closing of the American frontier” and
its perception of more limited opportunities further intensified social and economic concerns
about society, and generally undermined confidence in the state of the union.53
Native-born Americans of many classes responded negatively to foreigners, especially
non-Anglo immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, whose numbers had been increasing
for a number of years. They were easy targets, with their alien language, habits, and religion
became an easy focus for societal problems and their discontents. Among American-born
workers, nativism was a response to the job competition (and low wages) and also expressed a
concern about the major changes in society that industrialization had wrought, including a more
sharply division between labor and capital than previously. A growing number of labor strikes,
including the Pennsylvania coal strikes and especially the Haymarket riot in 1886, created
general concern about the social order and about foreigners who were often the leaders of the
strikes and labor unrest. Reformers blamed immigrants for the problems of the cities where they

Warning by Two Presidents. The Washington Post (1877-1922); Feb 15, 1903; at 18. See also, Is for Bachelor
Tax, Chicago Tribune, July 11, 1903 at 1. (President Hall of Clark University); Wants A Tax On Bachelors, Chicago
Tribune (1872-1922); Feb 26, 1905; at 1 (statement by President Benjamin Ide Wheeler, President of University of
John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism 1860-1925, (2nd edition 1965) 14-17. Much
of the discussion of nativism comes from this book. Michael S. Teitelbaum & Jay M. Winter, The Fear of
Population Decline (Academic Press, Inc.1985)..
See Higham pp 68-90. In 1890, the Census officially declared the frontier closed. Robert P. Porter, Henry
Gannett, and William C. Hunt, ("Progress of the Nation", in "Report on Population of the United States at the
Eleventh Census: 1890, Part 1. Bureau of the Census. xviii-xxxiv at [p xxxviii: “Up to and including 1880 the country had a
frontier of settlement, but at present the unsettled area has been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that
there can hardly be said to be a frontier line.”] See, Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in
American History” at (1893 presented at the American Historical
Association outlined the importance of that frontier to the American experience and its democracy)

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congregated—poverty, crowding, disease, and corruption; “militant Protestants’ saw them as

“tools of Rome.” Patricians—especially in New England—viewed them as threats to the Anglo-
Saxon traditions that made America strong, and all sorts of people saw them as “agents of
discord and strife” who could not be assimilated into American life.54
Fears about declining Anglo-American population and an endangered democracy were
tied to the perceived threat from alien immigrants. In 1891 the economist and President of MIT
Francis A. Walker stated that the declining birth rate in the United States—which he noted when
he was the superintendent of the census in 1870 and 1880—was occurring predominantly among
native Americans and was in response to the wave of new immigrants. In effect, he argued that
in order to protect their way of life, they had fewer children because they knew their children
could not compete with lower wages.55
Scientific theories about genetics, eugenics, and race at the turn of the century added to
these negative feelings about southern and eastern European immigrants.56 “Race and heredity”
the economist and reformer John R Commons said in 1907, “furnish the raw material, education
and environment furnish the tools, with which and by which social institutions are fashioned; and
in a democracy race and heredity are the more decisive.”57 Although some degree of
assimilation or Americanization was possible for the better sort of immigrant, he said, that would

Higham at 77, 138. By 1896, southern and eastern European immigrants were outnumbering immigrants from the
traditional sources: northern and western Europe, but among the entire United States population, immigrants from
the latter countries still outnumbered the newer immigrants. Higham at 88. By mid 1890s, the general population
was beginning to view these particular immigrants as a danger. Higham at 87.
Higham at 143. Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association Walker spoke on the
immigration issues. “The foreign arrivals have risen from 2,500,000 between 1870 and 1880 to 5,000,000 between
1880 and 1890. Another decade it may...rise to 10,000,0000. The extension of the railroad systems of Europe, the
capability of the ocean fleets, the organization of emigration within even the most remote districts of Europe, seem
to put no limit upon numbers so far as the future is concerned. Not only the enormous increased of immigration, but
the manifestly lower character of the recent comers, especially those from Eastern Europe, make the question one of
“Our first duty is to ourselves and our own descendants.” Then we have to help the ‘oppressed masses of
Europe. We are not necessarily to do this by receiving their overflow indiscriminately,” Thinkers' Convention: The
Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association, The Washington Post Dec 27, 1890 at 6. See, also,
Walker, THe Tide of Economic Thought,” 6 Publications of the American Economic Association 15-38 (1891) and
Walker, Discussions in Economics and Statistics (NY, 1899), 417-428.
Walker also wrote about the “negro and the Census.” General Walker on the Negro and the Census, in
With the Magazines, Atlanta Constitution, July 5, 1891 at 2. (percentage of negroes in the United States is declining
and will continue to decline).
See generally chapter 6, Toward Racism: the History of an Idea” in Higham.
John R. Commons, Races and Immigrants in America 7 (NY 1907) available at He said “our
democratic theories and forms of government were fashioned by but one of the many races and peoples which have
come within their practical operation, and that that race, the so-called Anglo-Saxon, developed them...”. Id at 5.

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only occur if the immigrant were exposed to American ideals and way of life. The crowded
slums where most new immigrants lived did not provide such an opportunity. 58 Current societal
conditions therefore exacerbated the racial problems of immigration rather than ameliorated
them with education and environment.59
In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote a letter to the author of a book about the
poor working conditions for women. While recognizing the problems described in the book, he
stated that “race suicide” was the most important question facing the country and called on
young men and women to become parents to prevent the decline of the country.60 His letter
became the preface to the book and garnered attention from the press and others when published
in early 1903. In fact, it helped stoke concerns about the quality of immigrants and the low
Anglo-Saxon birth rates in America, although he never specifically mentioned immigration or
particular immigrants.61 A 1903 editorial in the Washington Post titled Warning by Two
Presidents (Roosevelt and Elliot of Harvard University), commented: “If it were possible for The
Post to be pessimistic as to the republic’s future, a cause could be readily found in our social
statistics.”62 Echoing Roosevelt, and Elliot, it found the source in the falling fertility rate—
specifically the failure of the best Americans (descendent of the “British, the German, and
Scandinavian stocks”) to reproduce in the face of “the continued influx of the worst European
stocks, with their swarms of children.” President Hall of Clark University agreed—once in 1903
and again in 1905—and more explicitly alluded to which sort of people needed to reproduce.

Commons at 214-20.
Commons urged government adopt policies that would subsidize rural areas and agriculture to entice people away
from the cities. One novel approach to solving the urban problem, the bachelor problem and the immigrant problem
was a suggestion in 1911 by the Young Men’s Associated Jewish Charities of Chicago to tax bachelors 30 years old
and above. The money would be used to send Jewish immigrants “from crowded, unhealthy tenement districts to
country farms.” Reiflif For Jews in Bachleor Tax. Chicago Tribune, Feb. 15, 1911 at 1.
President Roosevelt’s 1902 letter to Mrs. John Van Vorst after reading a chapter in her serially published
book “The Woman Who Toils” became the preface to the book. See,
&f=false Written in 1902, the letter makes the news in early 1903 when the book is published. E.g., . Sociological
Atlanta Constitution Feb 15, 1903 at A10
Higham at 142-48. Dr. Iseman begins his 1912 book by saying: “The purpose fo this book is to make the
American people think, to appeal to my fellow-countrymen to stay the practice of a great national sin whose
consequence is to toll the passing of this great Anglo-Teuton people.” . . . Men give to their country its swords and
lances, but the women give to it its men, and if the daughters of the Puritan and Cavalier will no longer give to their
country its men and women, the empire founded by their forebears, with all of its glories and traditions, will in the
course of a few generations pass to the Latin and the Hun.” M.S. Iseman, Race Suicide (New York: 1912) 5
available at; See, also, Edward A, Ross,
The Causes of Race Superiority, 18 Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 85-88 (1901);
Edward A. Ross The Value Rank of the American People, 57 Independent 1061-63 (1904
Warning by Two Presidents. The Washington Post Feb 15, 1903; at 18.

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Claiming that the low marriage and fertility rates of educated Americans would lead to “race
suicide,” he thought a tax on bachelors would be a good idea.63 In 1905, President Roosevelt
before the National Congress of Mothers again emphasized the societal importance of
parenthood (especially motherhood) in creating children and raising them to be sound, honest,
and courageous citizens.64
In the next several years the terms race suicide and bachelor taxes were sometimes
explicitly linked—sometimes with approval; sometimes not. The Kansas City Journal, for
example, called race suicide a ‘faddism” and a joke which would lead to a revival of the “ancient
and ridiculous farce” of bachelor taxes on both men and women.65 The Washington Post
commented that the “desire to prevent race suicide” was a “very good” motive for bachelor
taxes, but the taxes may go too far.66 A mayoral candidate in San Diego proposed a poll tax on
bachelor men over 25 as a way to prevent race suicide.67
Perhaps the most explicit linkage between race suicide and bachelor taxes occurred in
1911 with the submission of a bill in the Illinois State legislature to tax bachelors over the age
of 35 $10 a year with the money going to pay mothers for having children. The preamble to the
bill, which gave the revenues from the bachelor tax to mothers, began by stating that the census
showed that “race suicide is prevalent in the larger cities of Illinois[,]” especially among “those
who are designated as the higher classes and with whom livelihood and luxury is more easily

Attack on Co-Education, New York Times, July 11, 1903 at 6; Learning Will Kill Race, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 16,
1905 at 7. Cf. Wants a Tax on Bachelors Chicago Tribune, Feb. 26, 1905 at 1. (President Benjamin Wheeler of the
University of California supporting a bachelor tax because “In the long run what upholds the family will uphold the
state. The State cannot exist without the home.”
See also, The Washington Jan 30, 1905; pg. 6 talks of Women’s Society for Political Study which
wants to limit # in family (?) to reduce poverty. Article ends by saying that ‘nothing is more certain’ than trouble
for Am if immigrants keep producing large families and ‘native stock’ continues to have small families or no
Theodore Roosevelt speech on Motherhood (March 13 1905 before National Congress of Mothers) at
“No piled-up wealth, no splendor of material growth, no brilliance of artistic development, will permanently avail
any people unless its home life is healthy, unless the average man possesses honesty, courage, common sense, and
decency, unless he works hard and is willing at need to fight hard; and unless the average woman is a good wife, a
good mother, able and willing to perform the first and greatest duty of womanhood, able and willing to bear, and to
bring up as they should be brought up, healthy children, sound in body, mind, and character, and numerous enough
so that the race shall increase and not decrease.”
Race Suicide Foolishness (From the Kansas City Journal) The Washington Post (1877-1922); Sep 7, 1905 at 6
(stating that the worst instance of harm done by the race suicide theory is the proposal by the MA state census
superintendent of asking woman why they haven’t had more children)
The Bachelor Tax, The Washington Post Feb 21, 1909 at E4
Woman Mayoralty Candidate Urges Tax on Bachelors, Chicago Tribune Aug. 29, 1912 at 3.

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obtained and possessed, that paternity and maternity on a large scale have gone out of fashion,68
so that “[I]f present conditions are allowed to continue it can be shown with mathematical
certainty that the families of the present, upper classes, with their share of the good qualities of
our race, will simply cease to exist.” Since “good qualities tend to be inherited,” the bill aimed
to encourage motherhood by giving them a bonus which would be paid to mothers.
Some women, on the other hand, blamed Roosevelt’s race suicide talk for all the b ills
regarding bachelor taxes and premium for babies. Bachelor taxes, claimed Dr. Anna Howard
Shaw, the president of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association, were “coarse buncombe”:
Undoubtedly a time will come when some women will
deliberately choose motherhood as a vocation, and the government will
reward them for their services in the state. Some women have a perfect
genius for motherhood, as others have for art or literature. But when
the time comes for motherhood pensions the money should be raised by
general taxation, not by a tax on bachelors.69
Despite the protests of these women—mainly suffragettes—the link between improving
the quality of the race in the United States continued just as it did in Europe. There was “truth”
in what the eugenicists were saying, stated one commentator in 1921, about the need to weed out
the “weak and feeble-minded.” Yet, the uneducated were producing large families, while the
educated class, who had a “patriotic duty. . . to furnish the nation with hostages of fortune” were
not. A bachelor tax, he said, would help correct the situation.70 In 1929, the President of the
Eugenics Research Association suggested that a bachelor tax would help solve the problem of
the best families producing the least number of children.71

Asks State Aid To Lure Storks, Chicago Tribune March 21, 1911 at 1.
Bachelor Tax Buncombe, Washington Post, March 25, 1911 at 11. Accord, Belle Squire, Illinois Legislature's
Anti-Race-Suicide Bill Considered from a Feminine View... Chicago Tribune March 26, 1911 at B7 (a suffragette
claiming there is no race suicide and bachelor tax and child subsidy bills demean women. Give women the right to
vote and they will take care of the issues.).
“Favors Tax on Bachelors” in Chats With Visitors, The Washington Post, -Sep 29, 1921; at 6.
“Now it is family relief”, New York Times Jun 3, 1929; at 17.
At the International Congress on Eugenics held in London in 1912, the “author, editor and journalist” Prof
Lewis Angelo Hoffman stated that “anybody who lives in America will bear witness to the fact that the ever
increasing, foreign born element is the greatest menace to fundamental, American institutions as regards the
transmission of English laws, the conception of the English constitution, and the common law that we have. Every
comparison you make will come out unfavorably for the native born women, who represent a type which only has
the right but the duty to survive and perpetuate itself and represent the ruling classes.” The article ended by quoting
Professor Edgar at St. Andrews University for the view that bachelors must be taxed as should married couples with
fewer that a certain number of children. “”There is bound to be sooner or later a premium on the marriage of

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By the 1930s, bachelor taxes (and eugenics) were increasingly discussed in the context of
the very non-democratic Italian and German tax policies to encourage marriage and children.
discussed in terms of the very-American Hitler. And, as income taxes became increasingly
important in the United States tax system, concerns about taxation and marriage the battle about
the tax treatment of married and single taxpayers shifted focus from explicit taxes on bachelors
to the consequences of tax rates and filing. That, however, is another story.


Bachelor taxes have existed across the globe and throughout history. Today they survive
mainly as a by-product of favorable provisions in an income tax (e.g. exemptions and tax rates)
for married couples. In prior centuries—even as recently as the early 20th century, however,
bachelor taxes were primarily direct, explicit taxes on bachelors, meaning that taxing bachelors
was not merely the result of some other tax or tax policy; rather bachelors were the actual subject
of the tax (the tax base).
This Essay examined bachelor taxes in the United States from 1895 to 1939. During this
period, newspapers, but not magazines, showed a consistent interest in these taxes. Over 700
news items discussed bachelor taxes. Sometimes the items were about United States taxes
(actual or proposed). Sometimes (especially in the 1930s) they concerned foreign bachelor
taxes, especially those in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. The American articles differed
significantly in tone and content from articles in the English and Irish press of the same time
Some might argue that these articles are of little consequence because many of them
contain centuries old characterizations of bachelors and were deliberately amusing, ironic or
sarcastic. The historian John McCurdy, for example, remarked that it would be a “mistake” to
take 19th century American newspaper and pamphlet descriptions of bachelors as selfish,
frivolous, and shirkers at “face value.” These portrayals, he cautioned, were stereotypes that did

healthy men. Doctors, clergymen, and professional men generally who have incomes of from $1,000 to $2,500 a
year are deprived of most of the pleasures of life if they have more than one or two children. The state must do
something for parents who are bold enough and brave enough to deny themselves pleasures by having children.
Small Families America’s Peril, Chicago Tribune July 27, 1912; at 2. In further support of his position, Hoffman
noted that a 1905 census in Rhode Island showed that 27.% of Protestants were childless compared with 19.7% of
Catholics. See, also, Geoffrey Russell Searle, Eugenics and Politics in Britain, 1900-1914 (Kluwer 1976) 90.

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not represent the contemporary views of bachelors. [at 158] These same stereotypes appear 100
years later in discussions of bachelor taxes. McCurdy is correct that they should be interpreted
with caution, but it would be a mistake to ignore them completely. Stereotypes are used because
they resonate emotionally with the audience. If not the factual truth, they contain nuggets of
psychological/social truths. The different tone and content of articles about bachelor taxes in
American, on the one hand and English/Irish treatment on the other reinforces their significance.
The nugget of truth, this Essay suggests, is that during this time period bachelor taxes
served an expressive not instrumental purpose. The period’s persistent—albeit not huge—
interest in bachelor taxes reflected a general malaise about the state of American society
generated by decades of industrialization, urbanization, consumerism, and demographic changes.
These forces created societal tension even as they altered attitudes and actions in regards to
everyday living patterns and basic societal institutions, especially marriage. Economically hard
times, as frequently occurred in this time period, magnified the tensions.
The Essay posits that this tension—not the need for revenue—was the primary
motivation for the interest in bachelor taxes. The news items—no matter how short or how
amusing—communicated an unease about the decline of the centrality of marriage, the shifting
morals of a consumer society more concerned with having fun than rearing children, the
changing role of women, and a concern that populations are unhealthily declining—especially
the better portion of that society. The fact that many more bills were proposed than actually
enacted also suggests that the purpose of proposing the bills was primarily expressive.
Even in cases when revenue was the stated reason for a bachelor tax, the bachelor tax was
never a “revenue only” tax. The mere fact of taxing them implied a particular appropriateness to
taxing bachelors simply because they were bachelors. Societal conditions and attitudes
generated this sense of suitability rather than tax considerations. Administratively, taxing
bachelors was no easier—and indeed is a great deal harder—than taxing all individuals.
Theoretical reasons—at least those based on ability to pay rather than benefits received may have
more validity—especially if the tax is an implicit tax on bachelors resulting from more
exemptions for spouses and dependents. Outright taxes on bachelors qua bachelors, however,
were based only loosely—if at all—on tax theory, and then usually as a secondary explanation to
the main justification: bachelors deserved to be taxed because they were failing their moral,
social, and civic duty to settle down, marry and produce future citizens. The American articles

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about bachelor taxes (foreign or domestic) repeatedly discussed the declining state of marriage,
the frivolous life of bachelors and how they were shirking their moral and civic duty. Indeed, the
failure of the “better class” of young adults to marry and adequately reproduce undermined,
according to some commentators, the very fabric of American democracy.
The growing importance of the income tax as well as changing times eventually
diminished interest in bachelor taxes—at least explicit, direct taxes on bachelor. By the end of
1930s, the income tax became the primary battleground regarding marriage bonuses/bachelor
taxes and the focus switched to the carrot of rewarding marriage rather than the stick of taxing
bachelors. In either case, however, attitudes about marriage and its role in society continue to
affect tax policy and reflect broader political and societal attitudes and values. Over 25 years
ago, Boris Bittker claimed that “society’s assumptions about the role of marriage and the family”
were the most influential factor in choosing a taxable unit.
Bachelor taxes/marriage bonuses, of course, are not the only example of the decisive role
societal assumptions play in the tax system—ranging from basic issues (the choice of a rate
structure) to individual provisions (education or energy credits). They are, however, one of the
most clear and enduring reminders that the quest for a revenue-only, objective tax is as an
arduous and dangerous quest. It is an arduous quest because of the difficulty (theoretically and
politically) of identifying and then eliminating every tax preference and loophole in the tax laws.
The real danger, however, lies in the belief that success in eliminating loopholes is possible and
that such success would make the tax laws objective. Societal preferences inevitably affect basic
elements of any tax system: the tax base, the tax rate, and the taxable unit. So long as we are
aware of the societal aspect of the tax system, we can, to some extent, make adjustments or
compensations, for the biases they create. An illusion of objectivity, on the other hand, allows
these biases to operate unobserved and unchecked and, ironically, may make the tax laws more
subjective not less.