In 2011 over 15.7 million adults (35% of those aged 16 and over) in England and Wales had never been married, a rise from 12.5 million (30%) in 2001. In contrast, there were 23 million (51%) ‘not married’ people, a rise from 19.4 million (47%) in 2001. Those not married people were those who had never married or were divorced or widowed.
The rise in the single population could be the result of a number of factors, including the proportional decline in marriage since the 1970s and the increased social acceptability of remaining single or cohabiting (either never marrying or not re-marrying following divorce or widowhood).
The interactive map shows the proportion of those never married and those not married by area, age and sex.
The single population in 2011 was older than in 2001
The age distributions of those who were single in 2001 and 2011 show that the single population has aged. This could be due to the increase in older divorced and widowed people. In 2011, the median age of the adult population who had never been married was 27.5, a rise from 26.9 in 2001. Those who were not married in 2011 had a median age of 35.6, a rise from 35.0 in 2001.
Of those who had never been married, women were younger than men, with a median age of 26.9 compared with 28.0. This is linked to the trend for women to marry men who are older than themselves. However, not married women were on average older than men (39.3 and 32.9 years respectively). This is most likely due to the higher proportion of widows in the population (10% of adult women compared with 3.3% of adult men).
Islington had the highest proportion of single people in its population
The majority of the top 10 local authorities with the highest proportions of those who were either never married or unmarried were in London. Islington had the highest proportion of both these groups; 60% of its adult population had never been married and a further 11% were divorced or widowed.
Local authorities with high proportions of single people had younger populations. Oxford, for example, appeared in the top 10 for both groups. The adult median age for Oxford was 33.7 in 2011, compared with the England and Wales adult median age of 44.9.
The area with the lowest proportion of both never married and not married was East Dorset where 21% of the adult population had never been married and a further 18% were divorced or widowed. This reflects the older age structure in this area and higher proportions of the population who were widowed.
In Richmondshire there were 21 never married men for every 10 never married women
Some areas had many more single men than women. In Richmondshire (North Yorkshire) there were 21 men to every 10 women who had never been married. Within Richmondshire, Scotton had the largest difference between males and females who had never married with 97 men to every 10 women. This is related to the presence of army barracks in the area.
There were no local authorities with considerably more women who had never married than men. However there were more women than men who were not married in coastal areas such as Rother (East Sussex) and Christchurch (Dorset) where there were around 13 women who were not married to every 10 men who were not married. These coastal areas have an older population and as women have higher life expectancy, this is likely to be due to the number of widows in the population.
Where can I find out more about marital status statistics?
These statistics were analysed by the Census Analysis Unit at ONS. This analysis is based largely on data from the census, carried out by ONS. If you would like to find out more about the latest census statistics, you can read the release, view the infographic or visit the Census analysis page. If you have any comments or suggestions, we would like to hear them! Please email us at: email@example.com.
1. Legal marital status does not reflect an individual’s living arrangements. Therefore, cohabiting partnerships were not included, while those who were legally married may not have been living with their partner. Single people will include those who were cohabiting.