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Number of cohabiting couples projected to rise in England & Wales

Date:31 MAR 2009

The number of opposite-sex cohabiting couples is projected to increase by almost two thirds over the next 25 years according to new figures published today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

According to the ONS, the number of cohabiting couples is projected to rise from 2.25 million in 2007 to 3.70 million in 2031.

The number of older unmarried couples is also projected to rise. In 2007, only 25 per cent of male cohabitants and 19 per cent of female cohabitants were aged over 45. By 2031, the proportions over 45 are projected to rise to 40 per cent for males and 34 per cent for females.

The statistical analysis has revealed that the proportion of the adult population who are legally married is projected to fall from 49 per cent in 2007 to 41 per cent by 2031, whilst the proportion of adults who have never married is projected to rise from 34 per cent to 42 per cent.

The proportion of adults who are divorced is expected to continue rising at ages over 65. At ages 45-64, the proportion will rise to a peak around 2021 and then start to fall. At younger ages, the proportion of adults who are divorced is projected to fall gradually from 2007.

The figures are likely to be used to increase pressure on the Government to clarify the legal position of co-habitants. Last week the Cohabitation Bill, sponsored by human rights lawyer Lord Lester of Herne Hill, had its second reading in the House of Lords.

The Bill proposes to give rights to couples who live together but are not married and is based on the Law Commissions report in 2007 and promoted by Resolution. Under the new proposals, couples who live together for a minimum of two years - or have a child together - will have a right to apply for certain financial orders if they separate. This will be automatic unless they opt out and applies retrospectively.

However, the Bill was not universally welcomed by the Lords during the second reading but will go to committee for further consideration at a date yet to be decided.