Subscribe to news digests

News Search

Industry News

Rise of UK cohabitation continues, but marriage remains the norm

Monday, 12 August, 2019

Cohabitation has continued its rapid growth in the UK, with the numbers of cohabiting couples growing by 25 per cent to 3.4 million families from 2008-2018.

However, cohabitations still only represent 18 per cent of the UK's 19.1 million families. Marriages (including civil partnerships) remain the most common structure, representing two-thirds of all families, although only ten years ago it accounted for almost 70 per cent. The introduction of same-sex marriage has also led to rapid growth in same-sex-marriage couple families, with the numbers doubling to 68,000 since 2017.

STEP is warning that only marriage and civil partnerships grant legal rights and responsibilities to partners, at least in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland updated its law to reflect the number of unmarried cohabiting couples with the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006, but it does not provide the same matrimonial rights as married persons have.

'So-called common-law marriage is not recognised by the law of England and Wales or Northern Ireland', commented STEP's Technical Counsel Emily Deane TEP. 'You need to be married or in a civil partnership to rely on the law for dividing up finances if you split up or if one of you dies. It makes no difference if you have a child with the person you live with.'

The number of people living alone has also increased, passing the eight million mark in 2018, an increase of 300,000 since the previous year. This increase mainly consists of women aged 45 to 64 years and men aged 65 to 74 years. There have been no significant changes to the number of lone-parent families between 2008 and 2018, but one-quarter of young adults (3.4 million) aged 20 to 34 years were living with their parents by 2018. This has raised the number of families with non-dependent adult children by 16.4 per cent since 2008, to nearly three million.