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Claims that cohabiting couples are as likely to have children as married couples are misleading

Date: September 20, 2012

Claims that cohabiting couples are as likely to have children as married couples are misleading, says the  Marriage Foundation.


Research for Co-operative Legal Services published today in the Guardian reports that 38% of cohabiting couples are  parents – the same percentage as married couples with children.


But this does not mean that the same number of  children are brought up by cohabiting couples. There are still four times as many married couples as cohabiting couples. The Office for National Statistics shows that in 2011 there were 4.5 million married couples with dependent children compared to 1.1 million cohabiting couples with dependent children.


The research also ignores the fact that cohabitation is often a transient stage. Most cohabiting couples will either go on to separate or marry. ONS figures show that only 25% of women who started cohabiting between 2000 and 2004 were still cohabiting with the same person five years later. 40% had married and 35% had separated.


The Co-operative’s director of family law is right to highlight the risks of cohabiting without getting married. Cohabitating couples are far more likely to break-up and have fewer rights than married couples when they do. But creating an impression that cohabiting parents are as commonplace as married parents is misleading – they are not even close – and desensitises people to the greater likelihood of breakdown and the consequences for them and their children..


Harry Benson, Communications Director for the Marriage Foundation responded. “Marriage and cohabitation are contentious issues about which people have opinions, society makes decisions, and politicians make laws and policies. We can only make informed choices and set good policies if we start with accurate and relevant information and data. This is especially important when the cost of family breakdown to the taxpayer alone is over £44 billion every year.”


“The hard evidence shows that 80% of couples with children are married. This report is misleading at best and specious at worst. This report merely shows that couples who live together, married or not, have babies.”

Notes to editors:

For Harry Benson, Marriage Foundation Director of Communications, please phone 07515 699187 (press and media only)

For media inquiries please contact Daisy Jones at Media Intelligence Partners Ltd on 0203 008 6063

The Marriage Foundation was founded by Sir Paul Coleridge, a High Court Judge, moved by his personal experience in 40 years as a barrister and judge specialising in family law. The Foundation seeks to improve public understanding of marriage and reduce the numbers of people drawn into the family justice system – some 500,000 children and adults each year. 

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