Have You Ever Heard of a “Bachelor Tax”?

Tomorrow is tax day in the U.S. At one time in my life, I was a tax preparer for H&R Block and before that I worked for a private/personal tax preparer. I despise tax preparation nowadays, for an a self-employed author, I must keep every little scrap of paper which might hold a deduction. However, I have never encountered a Tax on Bachelors. Have you?

In the late 1600s (1695, to be more exact), the English parliament passed The Marriage Duty Act or Registration Tax, which imposed a tax on births, marriages, burials, childless widowers, and bachelors over the age of 25. The tax’s purpose was to rase revenue for the war with France. It was also to ensure proper records were kept by an Anglican church officials. The tax was found ineffective and abolished by 1706. 

Alan Taylor sparked my interest in this topic with this bit on the British History Georgian Lives Facebook page back on May 14, 2018: “Bachelor taxes have been common in many countries over the years. In late 17th/early 18th Century England women of marriageable age outnumbered men but many gentlemen of the upper and middle classes refused to commit to an expensive business when instead they could spend their time carousing in clubs, sit all day with their friends in coffee houses or even take a mistress or two. Women hit back at this selfish attitude and ‘three score thousand hands with never a cracked maidenhead amongst them” signed a petition deploring the laziness of their opposite sex complaining that: ‘they showed an aversion to the squalling of children..though the sot can sit a whole day at Wills(a coffee house) amidst the…quarrels of no wits’. The government was also keen to support marriage as the resulting children would make up for the appalling mortality rate of babies and youngsters (although a cynic might also add that politicians did not want females to assert their independence!!). Consequently they introduced a tax of 1 shilling a year on bachelors and widowers over 25, but apparently it did not work as it was repealed in 1706.”

The Act was initially implemented for a five-year period, but was extended (by 8 & 9 Wm. III, c. 20) to August 1, 1706. British History Online tells us: “Among Gregory King’s papers there is a printed broadsheet entitled A probable calculation of the annual income to be raised by a tax on marriages, burials, and legacies, with a note in King’s handwriting on the back — ‘Fryth’s Project of the Duty on Marriages, Births and Burials’. And after the Act had been passed, the Treasury received a petition from Richard Firth, claiming that he had (some six years earlier) suggested such taxes to the Duke of Shrewsbury, who had mentioned it to the King, and ‘in this sessions it was accepted by the House of Commons; praying their bounty for his charge and pains’. The Treasury comment was: ‘To be considered if there be any places to be disposed on this fond.’ No other supporting evidence has so far been found. The references in the Journals of the House of Commons are entirely formal and give no indication of the proposers or of the arguments they had in mind. Various amendments to the Bill were made during its passage through the House. One was to exempt from the tax on bachelors fellows and students of Oxford and Cambridge, ‘where, by the Statutes of their Colleges, they are to be displace, if they shall marry’. Another was concerned particularly with recording the deaths (and descent) of persons of quality. [Journals of the House of Commons, vol. 11, pp. 294-5.] But the Bill appears to have had an easy passage; introduced in the Committee on Ways and Means in February 1694/5, it was sent to the Lords on 8 April and their assent was notified on 12 April. Nevertheless, an aura of mystery still surrounds the Act. Three points arise, in particular.

“First, the apparatus required for implementing the Act was quite formidable, involving nothing less than a complete enumeration of the population and a comprehensive system of vital registration. Because some of the taxes fell upon individuals with specified characteristics (childless widowers and bachelors above the age of 25 years) it was necessary to know the names of all such individuals. In addition, the taxes were graduated in accordance with the social status of the individual — and graduated in a complex way. For example, the tax on the burial of a ‘common’ person was 4 shillings. For a Duke the tax was £50 4s for himself, the same for a Duchess, £30 4s for the eldest son or his wife, and £25 4s for a younger son or his wife or for an unmarried daughter. And similar variations applied to the duties on births and marriages and to the annual taxes on bachelors and widowers (Table 1a and b). The Act came into force on 1 May 1695 and on or before that date the Assessors were supposed to furnish the Commissioners with complete lists of the population in their areas, specifying their names and surnames, estates, degrees, titles and qualifications and indicating the taxes and duties to which they were liable, or would be liable if a specified event occurred (that is, a marriage, birth or death). Moreover, these lists were to be brought up to date each year, being corrected in respect of the ‘death change of quality or degree or removal of any person or persons or otherwise’ (Sections XI and XVI). Lodgers and servants were to be included in the enumeration, for they were to be taxed at their place of residence (Section XXIV). A further complication was that in London the basis of the enumeration was the parish, in contrast to the more usual ward basis. This may well have involved substantial problems, especially in the recruitment of a large and separate body of Assessors and Collectors.

“The parish basis was linked to the requirements for vital registration, for in order to prevent evasion it was necessary to improve the reliability and scope of the parochial system. A double check was provided. First, the scope of the parish register was widened to cover everyone married, buried, christened or born in a parish (Section XX), and stillbirths were to be notified (Section XXI). And persons in Holy Orders (and their substitutes) were instructed to keep accurate records of marriages and burials and of all persons ‘christened or born’, under penalty of a fine of £100 (Section XX). Secondly, a special responsibility was placed upon parents in respect of children born to them; it was their duty to notify the Collectors, within five days of the occurrence of the birth of a child, whether live or stillborn — and a stillbirth had to be attested by two or more persons (Section XXI). A similar duty was placed upon Quakers, Roman Catholics and Jews (and any other comparable individuals) to report their marriages to the Collectors within five days (Section LVII). And special arrangements were prescribed for ‘the better preserving the Genealogies Descents and Alliances of the Nobility and Gentry’. Upon the death of any of them (anyone liable to a burial duty of 20 shillings or more), the person responsible for paying the duty had to provide the Collectors with a certificate showing the ‘name surname quality office employment (if any) of such deceased person with the age time of death place of burial marriages and issue and the ages of such issue together with the names sirnames titles and qualities of the parents of such deceased persons. . .’. These certificates were to be sent to the Receiver-General or his deputies for transmission to the College of Arms, which institution was instructed to ‘number schedule and digest the same in alphabetical order in Books to bee provided for that purpose’ and to file the originals for public use (Section L).”

But this was not the only attempts in history to tax bachelors. The first bachelor tax was introduced in 9 AD by emperor Augustus to encourage marriage. It was called the ‘Lex Papia Poppaea’, and apart from taxing bachelors also taxed married people with no children, and those who were celibate. An exception was granted to Vestal Virgins (Ulp. Frag. xvii.1). In 1821, the US state of Missouri applied a $1 tax on all unmarried men. In 1921, the US state of Montana applied a $3 tax on all bachelors. In response to California’s low birth rate, in 1934 they proposed a $25 bachelor tax. The tax was never enacted. Benito Mussolini enacted a bachelor tax in Italy in 1927. The taxes twin objectives were to raise 50 million lira of revenue per year, and increase the Italian population. Mussolini was concerned that there were only 40 million Italians compared to 90 million Germans and 200 million Slavs. By 1936, Italian bachelors paid nearly double the normal income tax rate. To avoid the bachelor tax, the solution was simple, just get married. Italy’s bachelor tax was repealed in 1943. [Tax Fitness]

Even in the U. S. today, singles are taxed higher than say a single person able to file as “Head of Household.” The Head of Household filing status has some important tax advantages over theSingle filing status. If you qualify as Head of Household, you will have a lower tax rate and a higher standard deduction than a Single filer. Also, Heads of Household must have a higher income than Single filers before they owe income tax. While filing as head household gives you a higher standard deduction and usually a lower tax rate, than if you choose to file as single, one needsto qualify first. … To qualify, you must be able to claim a qualifying child or qualifying relative on your tax return.

On Google Books one can find Jane Frecknall-Hughes’s The Theory, Principles and Management of Taxation: An Introduction.  It says, 
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512tnr5nuBL.jpg Want to mix a little romance with your history? You might try The Bachelor Tax by Carolyn Davidson. I have not read it, but I am adding it to my Want to Read List on Goodreads. 

About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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