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Number of cohabiting couple families increased to 2.9 million in last decade

Date:20 JAN 2012

FamilySince 2001, the number of cohabiting couple families has risen dramatically from 2.1 million to 2.9 million, according to new statistics from the Office for National Statistics. The figures show that 38% of married couple families had dependent children in 2011, which is the same percentage as cohabiting couple families.

The number of dependent children living in cohabiting couple families has also increased significantly from 1.3 million in 2011 to 1.8 million in 2011. The number of lone parents with dependent children in the UK has grown steadily to 2 million from 1.7 million in 2001. The figures show that of the 26.3 million households in the UK in 2011, almost 20% consisted of four or more people.

Despite the rise in cohabiting couple families and lone parent families over the last decade, married couple families is the most common family type in the UK. In 2011 the most common family type in the UK was a married or civil partner couple family without dependent children. Since 2011, this has increased by 100,000 to 7.6 million such families. There was a slight decrease to married or civil partner couple families with dependent children to 4.5 million.

The total number of families in the UK has increased by 5% since 2001 to 17.9 million families, which is in line with the UK population growth. The UK now has 12 million married couple families; however, this is a decrease by 262,000 since 2001. This is consistent with the decrease in the number of marriages as more couples are choosing to cohabit.

There are now an estimated 63,000 families consisting of a same sex cohabiting couple and 59,000 consisting of a civil partner couple which has increased since the introduction of civil partnerships in the UK in December 2005. 

Sarah Anticoni, partner at Charles Russell, commented: "Modern family life as we know it in the UK has changed dramatically over the last decade a. In the 1980's the traditional 2.4 people family was the average family but this is no longer the case. Now the most common family type is a married or civil partner couple family without dependent children. The continuing economic crisis, lack of job security and financial pressures could mean more couples working longer and do not have the financial stability to raise children and therefore are having children later in life. It is discouraging to see the number of lone parents has risen and that many children face growing up without a constant male role model in their lives."

In December, figures from the ONS showed that after a period of decline, divorce rates were back on the rise, with 119,589 couples divorcing in 2010, an increase of 4.9% since 2009. The average marriage now lasts 11.4 years, with one in three breaking down by the 15th anniversary.

Sarah Anticoni concludes: "It is not surprising that the figures show that more couples are choosing to cohabit than a decade ago, and this is a trend we've been seeing for some time. With the number of cohabiting couples families now standing at 2.9 million the Government should take another look at reforming family law to address the difficulties faced by cohabitants if the relationship breaks down."