The State of the British Family

The UK has seen a rise in the number of families headed up by cohabiting couples, rather than married couples.

This is according to the ‘Families and households: 2018’ report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Cohabiting couples saw an increase of 26% between 2008 and 2018, making this group the fastest-growing family type over that decade.

What makes a family?

The report found that in 2018, there were 19.1 million families in the UK. This was a rise of 8% from the 17.7 million families living in the UK a decade earlier – in line with the general population growth seen in the UK.

According to the ONS, a family is “a married, civil partnered or cohabiting couple with or without children, or a lone parent with at least one child, who live at the same address”. The children may be dependent or not.

Married couples and those in civil partnerships were the most common family type in the UK in 2018, making up around two-thirds (67%) of all families. This group has seen a drop since 2008, however, falling from 69% in a decade.

Reflecting the growth this family group has seen, cohabiting couple families were the second-largest type in 2018, at 3.4 million (18%). This was compared to 2008, when there were 2.7 million (15%) households made up of cohabiting couples.

Lone parent families accounted for the smallest family group, at 2.9 million (15%).

The legalities around cohabitation

There is no such thing as a common law marriage in the UK, despite what many may think. This means that cohabiting couples do not have the same legal rights as married couples.

However, a bill that addresses the rights of cohabiting couples – the Cohabitation Rights Bill – is in the early stages of passing through Parliament.

It aims to provide certain protections for people living together or who have lived together as a couple. It will focus on making provisions about the property of a deceased person survived by their partner.

The law surrounding couples living together without being married or in a civil partnership highlights the need for a formal arrangement, such as a cohabitation agreement.

Same-sex couple families on the rise

The number of same-sex couple families has grown by 53% since 2015.

In 2018, there were 232,000 same-sex couple families, having risen from 152,000 in 2015.

Same-sex cohabiting couple families remain the most common same-sex couple family type. However, the proportion of these families fell from 60% in 2015 to 50% in 2018. Couples in civil partnerships have also decreased from 32% to 20% of all same-sex couple families since 2015.

The introduction of same-sex marriage in 2014 has been responsible for the fall in civil partnerships being entered into. In just one year, the number of married same-sex couples has doubled, reaching 68,000 in 2018. This represented 29% of all same-sex couple families in 2018, compared with 9% in 2015.

This contrasts to opposite-sex couples, 79% of which are married and 21% are cohabiting families.

More of us live alone

According to the report, the number of people living alone has risen.

Since 2017, 292,000 more people aged 16 and over are thought to live alone, bringing the total number of one-person households to just over eight million for the first time, representing 15% of the UK adult population. This is a rise of 3.8% in a year.

This has been driven by statistically significant increases in the numbers of women aged 45 to 64 and men aged 65 to 74 living alone.

Thought to be responsible for the increases in these age and sex groups are the increasing population aged 45 to 64 years, rises in the numbers of people who have gone through divorce or never married, and increasing male life expectancy catching up with female life expectancy.

Young people staying at home

Men aged 16 to 44 and women aged 25 to 44 were found to be less likely to live alone than in previous years. The ONS said this is likely caused by the increasing number of young adults who are living with their parents.

It was found that in 2018, one in four people aged 20 to 34 lived with parents.

This was a rise of 24% over the decade between 2008 to 2018. However, the report found that the rises in the number of young adults living with their parents since 2013 are more gradual than the increases in previous years.

Over the past two decades, young men have been more likely than young women to live with their parents. In 2018, 31% of men and 20% of women aged 20 to 34 were living with their parents. The ONS said the difference is likely because women tend to get married younger than men, and that it is possible women are also more likely to cohabit at younger ages than men.

It is thought that the increasing number of young adults living at home could be explained by longer education and training periods, formalising relationships and having children at older ages and higher costs of renting or buying their own homes.

The way we live is changing

Sophie Sanders, of the ONS Population Statistics Division, said: “The number of families and households in the UK has continued to rise in line with the growth of the UK population over the past decade. However, the ways that people live have been changing.

“While married couple families remain the most common, cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type as people increasingly choose to live together before, or without, getting married.”

She added: “There are also more people living alone than ever before, an increasing number of same-sex couple families and more young adults living with their parents.”

If you’re facing a family matter that you need legal assistance with, our panel of family law solicitors can help.

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