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Number of cohabiting couples doubles since 1996

Released: 01 November 2012 Download PDF

The number of opposite sex cohabiting couples has increased, from 1.5 million in 1996 to 2.9 million in 2012. The number of dependent children living in these opposite sex cohabiting couple families also increased, doubling from 0.9 million to 1.8 million in the same period.

The most common family type in 2012 is a married or civil partner couple without dependent children, accounting for 7.6 million out of a total of 18.2 million families in the UK. The second most common family type is a married or civil partner couple with dependent children, of which there are 4.6 million.

There are 12.2 million married couple families in the UK, a decrease of 457,000 since 1996. This is consistent with the trend of decreasing marriage numbers seen since the early 1970s.

Lone parents with dependent children represent 26 per cent of all families with dependent children in 2012. There are nearly 2.0 million lone parents with dependent children in the UK, a figure which has grown from 1.6 million in 1996.

There are an estimated 69,000 families consisting of a same sex cohabiting couple and an additional 66,000 civil partnered couples, a number which has steadily increased since the introduction of civil partnerships in the UK in December 2005.

There are 26.4 million households in the UK in 2012. Of these, 29 per cent consist of only one person and almost 20 per cent consist of four or more people.

7.6 million people in UK households live alone in 2012, of which 4.2 million are aged 16 to 64. Of those in this age group, the majority (58 per cent) are male. For those aged 65 or over, the pattern is reversed; at this age the majority of people living alone (69 per cent) are female.

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Background notes

  1. A family is a married, civil partnered or cohabiting couple with or without children, or a lone parent with at least one child. Children may be dependent or non-dependent.
  2. Dependent children are those aged under 16 living with at least one parent, or aged 16 to 18 in full-time education, excluding all children who have a spouse, partner or child living in the household.
  3. Since 2011 a household has been defined as one person living alone, or a group of people (not necessarily related) living at the same address who share cooking facilities and share a living room, sitting room or dining area. Previously a household was defined as a person living alone, or a group of people living at the same address who have the address as their only or main residence and either share one main meal a day or share living accommodation (or both). The aim of the change in definition was to ensure consistency with the definition used in the 2011 Census but has no impact on the comparability of the statistics over time.
  4. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting or from the Media Relations Office email:

Content from the Office for National Statistics.
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