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Video Summary: Cohabitation in the UK, 2012

Released: 01 November 2012

Slide 1

This is a short video on cohabitation in the UK.

Slide 2

First we will look at the number of people cohabiting in the UK, that being those living with a partner, but not married to or in a civil partnership with them.

We can see using this bar chart, the number of people cohabiting has increased between 1996 and 2012. There were 5.9 million people cohabiting in 2012. This is double the number of 2.9 million seen in 1996.

Slide 3

Next we will look at the percentage of those cohabiting by age band. Using this graph, we can see the lines for the five age bands and the trend in each from 1996 to 2012.

We can see that four of the age bands, with the exception of the 16-24 age band, have seen an increase over the period, whereas the youngest age band has remained fairly constant.

Now we will individually look at the four age bands that have seen a substantial increase over the period. Starting with the 25-34 age band, we can see in 1996, 15.3% of people in this age band were cohabiting, and that proportion has increased to 26.8% in 2012. Next, looking at those aged between 35 and 44 we can see that in 1996 6.9% were cohabiting compared to 15% in 2012. Those 45-64 have seen an increase from 2.9% to 8.5% over the period, and finally, the oldest age band, of 65 and over, has seen an increase from 0.6% in 1996 to 2.2% in 2012.

Therefore we can see that those aged between 25 and 34 are most likely to cohabit, often before or instead of marriage. Also, people of all ages are more likely to cohabit in 2012 than 1996, although, the 16-24 year old age band has only seen a small increase.

Slide 4

Now we will look at cohabitees’ marital status by age. As you can see we have four groups of marital status, single, separated from marriage or civil partnership, divorced or dissolved civil partnership and widowed.

Starting with those aged 16-24 we can see, using this pie chart, that almost all of cohabiting individuals are single. Next, for those aged 25-34, we can see that the majority are still single, but there has been an increase in the other groups. For those aged between 35 and 44 we can see that, like the previous age bands, the majority, around three quarters, are single but there has been an increase in those who are divorced or had their civil partnership dissolved.

Now looking at the 45-64 age band we can see that the largest proportion is now divorced or have had their civil partnership dissolved, although there is still a large percentage who are single.

Finally for the last two age bands we can see, firstly, for those aged between 65-74 that the proportion of those who are divorced or had their civil partnership dissolved has increased, and there has also been an increase in those who are widowed.  For those aged 75 and over the proportion of those who are widowed has again increased and this is now the largest group.

If we now look at the patterns of the groups across the age bands we can see that the percentage of cohabitees who are single decreases with age, particularly from age 45. Secondly, the percentage of those divorced or who have had their civil partnership dissolved increases with age, although it does decrease slightly for those age 75 and over. Finally, the percentage of those widowed increases with age and there is a significant percentage increase from those aged 65-74 to those aged 75 and over.

Slide 5

Now we will look at cohabiting couples of the opposite sex and whether they have children. Using this chart we can show the percentage of cohabitees and whether they have no children, dependent children or non-dependent children in their household. Dependent children are those living with their parent(s) and are either aged under 16, or aged 16 to 18 in full-time education, and it excludes children aged 16 to 18 who have a spouse, partner or child living in the household.

We can see that in 2012, 56% of cohabitees have no children, 39% have dependent children and 4% have non-dependent children only.

As shown 39 per cent of opposite sex cohabitees have dependent children in their household. This compares with 38 per cent of married couples. However this similarity masks age differences between the two groups, which we will look at with this next chart.

Focusing now on just those with dependent children, the blue line shows the age distribution of cohabitees, and we can see that their average age is 34.

The green line illustrates married people with dependent children. Their age distribution appears older as the graph has moved to the right. Their average age is 41, 7 years older than their cohabiting counterparts. This is partly because some couples cohabit, have children, and then get married.

Slide 6

Finally we will compare cohabiting couples of the opposite sex with married couples and analyse the number of dependent children they have in their household. First, we can see, using this pie chart, the number of children in the homes of cohabiting couples. We can see that 54% have one child, 34% have two children and 12% have three or more children.

This second pie chart illustrates the number of children in the homes of married couples. We can see that 41% have one child, 43% have two children and 16% have three or more children.

Overall we can see that cohabiting couples have fewer dependent children since the biggest group of cohabiting couples have one child compared to two for married couples. One reason for this is, as we saw in the last slide, cohabiting couples with children are younger than their married counterparts. This means that they have more childbearing years ahead of them. Cohabiting couples may have one or two children, then either separate or marry. Research has shown that cohabiting partnerships are less stable and more likely to end in separation than marital partnerships. If cohabiting couples do marry, they may go on to have more children.

Source: Office for National Statistics

Background notes

  1. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting or from the Media Relations Office email:

    These National Statistics are produced to high professional standards and released according to the arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority.

Content from the Office for National Statistics.
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