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July 3, 2008 / C H Thompson


Cohabitation and marriage

New figures from the UK Census have revealed that more and more couples are living together without being married and/or before gettingrates of cohabitation married.

In 1994, the earliest date for which figures are available, 75% of couples marrying in a civil ceremony lived together before getting married. This percentage increased steadily to 88% in 2011 with the number of opposite sex cohabiting couple families has increased significantly, from 2.2 million in 2003 to 2.9 million in 2013 (ONS).

A lower percentage of couples having a religious marriage cohabited before marrying for all years. However the gap has narrowed over time. In 1994, 41% of couples having a religious ceremony lived together before marriage, almost doubling to 78% in 2011.

Other statistics show that the number of couples cohabiting in the UK has doubled since 1996, illustrating that cohabitation is now more common, both as a precursor and an alternative to marriage.

With cohabitation having grown significantly in popularity over the past 40 years Eleanor Macklin (1975) identified four types of cohabitation:

  • temporary casual for convenience
  • affectionate dating
  • trial marriage
  • temporary alternative to marriage
  • permanent alternative to marriage

Cohabitation and households

The recent data, published by the Office for National Statistics, shows that households containing one cohabiting couple have risen by 500,000 in ten years from 1.8 million in 2001, to 2.3 million in 2011 – a rise of nearly 30%.

Cohabitation and dependent children

The number of dependent children living in these opposite sex cohabiting couple families also increased, The number of dependent children living in opposite sex cohabiting couple families rose from 1.4 million to 1.9 million over the same period (ONS).

The reasons for the decline in marriage and growing incidence of cohabitation are extensive:

  1. sexual relations – cohabiting is no longer associated with living in sin (social stigma) making cohabitation socially acceptable
  2. choice – people (particularly young couples) choose to cohabit in order to ‘test’ their relationship
  3. changing roles of women – greater economic independence has meant women are able to choose their relationships
  4. effective contraception – from 1967 onwards reliable contraception was made available on the NHS. This meant it made it possible for couples to cohabit without worrying about becoming pregnant
  5. parental freedom – the 1960s saw a gradual relaxation in parents towards their children. The formal discipline of the past slowly eroded and so eventually parents ‘allowed’ their children to live together without being married
  6. education – 1960s saw a growth in Higher Education, this meant more children were given more freedom than ever before
  7. building societies – started lending money to unmarried couples in the late 1970s and early 1980s as the social stigma waned
  8. divorce – there’s increasingly less stigma associated with divorce, consequently marriage as a union between couples is not as socially strong
  9.  increasing divorce rates makes marriage is less of an aspiration for people which has added to the currency of cohabitation

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Leave a Comment
  1. sheena / May 13 2014 2:04 pm

    Why is cohabitation even considered a family type? It is a type of household no? Because there is no marriage and no blood relation? Im confused!


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