Marital status and living arrangements by numbers - the latest statistical update from the ONS Image

Marital status and living arrangements by numbers - the latest statistical update from the ONS

Posted: 14/07/2015

A new survey published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 'ONS Population Estimates by Marital Status and Living Arrangements Survey - England and Wales, 2002 to 2014', has revealed significant changes in the living arrangements for people in England and Wales over the last decade. 

From a family lawyer’s perspective, Penningtons Manches has looked at the five key features and trends revealed by the survey. 

1. Marriages

Key trend: The number of married people has declined and stabilised.

  • The proportion of the population who are married decreased from 54.8% in 2002 to 51.5% in 2014, although it is now beginning to stabilise. 
  • In the age groups 25 to 29 years and 30 to 34 years, the size of the married and civil partnered population has increased. This reflects those marrying or entering into civil partnerships for the first time in their late 20s and 30s.

2. Divorces

Key trend: The rise of divorce among older people. 

  • From 2002 to 2014, the percentage of people who divorced increased slightly, predominantly driven by those aged 45 and over, who have seen larger increases in the percentage divorced than younger age groups. 
  • The 55 to 59 age group had the largest percentage of divorced people (15.7%), closely followed by those aged 50 to 54 (15.5%) and 60 to 64 (15.2%). 
  • There was a slight decrease in the percentage of people who were widowed down from 8.1% in 2002 to 6.5% in 2014. This is associated with continuing increases in life expectancy, particularly for men. This means that married people are living longer than before and so may divorce rather than become widowed. 

3. Living together

Key trend: Cohabiting couple families are the fastest growing family type in the UK (2004 to 2014).

  • In 2002 6.8% of the population were ‘cohabiting – never married or civil partnered’ but this had increased to 9.0% by 2014. There is an increasing trend to cohabit instead of marrying or to live together before marriage particularly at younger ages. 
  • This was most common amongst younger age groups, with 22.2% of people aged 30 to 34 and 17.4% of people aged 16 to 29 choosing to live together. 
  • One-quarter of cohabiting people were ‘previously married or civil partnered’. This was most common in the 45 to 49 (5.5%) and 50 to 54 (6.0%) age groups. Many of the people in these age groups are likely to be divorced people who are living with a new partner and have chosen not to remarry. 
  • In 2002, people who were ‘not cohabiting: never married or civil partnered’ represented 22.9% of the population. By 2014 this had increased to around a quarter of the population (25.1%). 

4. Single people

Key trend: The proportion of people who are single has increased steadily from 29.6% in 2002 to 33.9% in 2014. 

  • Almost 16 million people are single within the total population of those aged 16+ years.
  • 75% of 25-29 year olds fall within this category, as do almost half of 30-34 years olds (48.2%). 

5.  International trends

  • More than four out of ten (41%) people of all ages in England and Wales were married in 2012. This is lower than countries such as Romania with 50% married and Italy with 49% married but higher than Sweden and Iceland, where 34% were married in 2012.
  • The highest proportions of divorced people are found in Latvia (12% in 2012) and the Czech Republic (11%), with the lowest in Turkey (2%) and Romania (5%). England and Wales sits in the middle with 6.8% of people divorced. 


The survey reveals that family life continues to evolve rapidly in England and Wales.  

There is a clear trend towards cohabitation and the law has not kept up, providing few rights for cohabitants. For further information on the limited rights of people who live together, see our five essential facts. 

The trends uncovered by the report provide further support for changes to the law for people living together. This has been a hot topic in family law for a number of years and it is clear that change is long overdue. In the meantime, it is vital that cohabitants are aware of their limited rights so that they can protect themselves adequately. 

This article has been co-written with Katherine Harding, a vacation placement student in the family law team.

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Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England and Wales with registered number OC311575 and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority under number 419867.

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