1. Main points

There were 23.8 million people who were married in 2015. This was 50.6% of the population aged 16 and over.

The population aged 16 and over who were single increased from 29.6% in 2002 to 34.5% in 2015.

There were 28.4 million people living in a couple in 2015. This was 60.5% of the population aged 16 and over.

The population aged 16 and over who were “cohabiting, never married or civil partnered” increased from 6.8% in 2002 to 9.5% in 2015.

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2. Statistician’s quote

“Just over half of the population aged 16 and over were married in 2015. This figure has steadily declined since 2002, which could be associated with a rise in cohabiting amongst those who have never married or formed a civil partnership.”

Pamela Cobb, Population Statistics Division, Office for National Statistics.

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3. Things you need to know

Marital status indicates whether a person is legally married or not. This publication uses 5 categories of legal marital status:

  • single, never married or civil partnered
  • married, including separated (this category includes those in both opposite and same sex marriages)
  • civil partnered, including separated
  • divorced, including legally dissolved civil partners
  • widowed, including surviving civil partners

Living arrangements indicate whether people are living with a partner or not, irrespective of their legal marital status.

Those aged under 16 are all considered to be single in line with the legal age of marriage in England and Wales. This bulletin focuses on the population aged 16 and over.

This publication does not include estimates of couples who are living apart together (LAT).The Quality and Methodology Information document provides further detail.

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4. Married people are the largest group in the population aged 16 and over

The majority (50.6%) of the population aged 16 and over in 2015 were married. The next largest group within the population were single, never married or civil partnered (34.5%). The population who were divorced or widowed made up a smaller proportion of the total population at 8.1% and 6.5% respectively. The smallest group within the population were those who were civil partnered, making up 0.2% of the population aged 16 and over in 2015.

In 2015, the number of people aged 16 and over in a same sex marriage was 26,023 – 0.1% of the married population – in England and Wales. Males accounted for 51% (13,150) of the population in a same sex marriage and females the remaining 49% (12,872).

The female population who are divorced was larger than the male divorced population in 2015. This could be associated with the remarriage rates (number marrying per 1,000 widowed or divorced population) seen for males and females (Marriages in England and Wales: 2013). In 2013 the remarriage rate for men was 25.3 per 1,000 and for women 12.2 per 1,000 suggesting more men tend to re-marry compared with women. Women may choose to remain partnerless or cohabit rather than remarry.

In 2015, the difference in the number of widowed males and females, especially at older ages, could be explained by women having higher life expectancy than men, and women traditionally marrying an older spouse (National Life Tables, United Kingdom: 2012-2014).

In 2015, 51.7% of men and 49.6% of women aged 16 and over were married. Being married was the most common marital status for women aged between 30 to 34 and 80 to 84 in 2015. For men, being married was the most common marital status after age 30 to 34. A marital status of single, never married was most common for those aged under 30.

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6. The percentage of the population who are married has declined while the percentage who are single has increased

The percentage of people aged 16 and over who are married has decreased over time from 54.8% in 2002 to 50.6% in 2015. The percentage of people aged 16 and over who are single has increased over time from 29.6% in 2002 to 34.5% in 2015. This coincides with an increase in people cohabiting who are never married or civil partnered (Figure 5), as cohabitation has become more common as an alternative to marriage, especially at younger ages. The rise in single population also reflects more people in middle age groups remaining unmarried.

The percentage of the population aged 16 and over who were divorced has increased steadily over time, this could be associated with the decrease in re-marriages over time (Marriages in England and Wales: 2013). In 2015, the percentage of the population aged 16 and over who were widowed was 6.5%; this fell from 8.1% in 2002. The fall could be associated with continuing increases in life expectancy, particularly for men, meaning fewer women are widowed. In addition, if the married population are living longer than before, they may divorce rather than become widowed.

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7. The population who are single, never married or civil partnered are increasingly cohabiting

In 2002 people who were “cohabiting: never married or civil partnered” represented 6.8% of the population; this had increased to 9.5% by 2015. This may be explained by an increasing trend to cohabit instead of marry, or to cohabit before marriage, particularly at younger ages. According to Families and Households: 2015, cohabiting couple families are the fastest growing family type in the UK (2004 to 2015).

In 2002, people who were “not cohabiting: never married or civil partnered” represented 22.9% of the population. By 2015 this had increased to around a quarter of the population at 25.0%. This could be explained by younger people delaying entering cohabiting relationships or delaying leaving the family home (Families and Households: 2015).

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9 .What has changed within this publication?

  1. The Marriages (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 made provision for the marriage of same sex couples in England and Wales from 29 March 2014 onwards. This publication is the first time we are able to provide an estimate of the number of people in a same sex marriage by sex. Until sample sizes become large enough to produce robust estimates, data are unlikely to be available by age group. This will be reviewed annually.

  2. Improvements have been made to the estimates by providing indicators of quality. The estimates presented within the datasets are provided with confidence intervals (around the survey component of the estimate) and also an indication of the size of the coefficient of variation (for the survey component of the estimate).

    Confidence intervals provide an estimated range of values in which an actual data value is likely to fall 95% of the time. The coefficient of variation (CV) indicates the robustness of each estimate.

    Research into producing confidence intervals around population estimates is continuing; should these become available in the future, users would be able to gain an understanding of the overall accuracy of the population estimates by marital status and living arrangements rather than only the survey component.

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10 .Quality and Methodology

  1. We previously published population estimates by marital status from 1971 to 2010 using a different methodology. Following a consultation in 2014, the methodology was updated. The differences in the data produced by the two methodologies are explained within an the bulletin Population estimates by marital status and living arrangements: England and Wales, 2002 to 2014 and within a dataset alongside the release.

    The Quality and Methodology Information document (QMI) and the Details and results of the internal review leading to changes in the methodology of Population Estimates by Marital Status document provide more detail on the new methodology.

  2. The population estimates by marital status and living arrangements can be used in the production of marriage and divorce rates and also in the estimation of pension liabilities by insurance and pension firms.

  3. The population estimates by marital status and living arrangements Quality and Methodology Information document contains important information on:

    • strengths and limitations of the data
    • the quality of the output: including the accuracy of the data, how it compares with related data
    • uses and users
    • how the output was created
  4. These estimates are only available for England and Wales.

    National Records of Scotland (NRS) has published equivalent estimates for Scotland up to and including estimates for mid-2008, which are produced using similar methods to the old methodology used for England and Wales. However, following a user consultation, publication of population estimates by marital status for Scotland was suspended and demand for these estimates is currently being reviewed by NRS. Further information can be found on the NRS webpage for marital status population estimates.

    Population estimates by marital status for Northern Ireland are not produced, as the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) has not identified a current user requirement for such estimates.

  5. We are working with colleagues in ONS Methodology to establish if we can produce robust population estimates by marital status for England and Wales separately (currently these are published for England and Wales combined). We will inform users of the outcome of this work, and publish separate estimates for England and Wales if these are shown to be robust, in the next publication in July 2017.

  6. Population estimates by marital status and living arrangements refer to the mid-year (30 June). This is because the population estimates by marital status and living arrangements are based on the April to June quarter of the Labour Force Survey (LFS) which includes the mid-year point and they are constrained to the mid-year population estimates.

  7. The revisions policy for population statistics is available on our website.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Emily Knipe
families@ons.gsi.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1329 44 7890