Cohabiting couples continue to form the fastest growing family type in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics. The number of cohabiting couple family units has increased by over a quarter during the past decade and is continuing to grow.
And while married couples are still the most common family type, representing over two-thirds (67%) of all families in the UK, the rate of growth of the cohabiting arrangement is significant. Living together before – or instead of – marriage has become normalised, and there is evidence* that couples are moving in together quite soon after getting into a relationship. The Atlantic has gone as far as to refer to 'the age of shotgun cohabitation', citing financial instability as the primary reason for younger people to move in together.
Since people who live alone spend up to 90 per cent of their income on living costs, leaving them with almost no disposable income at the end of each month, this seems convincing. There are obvious economic benefits to sharing accommodation with a significant other, and 91% of those who do so rent together.
However, if cohabiting were solely a financial decision, then we would almost certainly see Londoners moving in together sooner than couples in other regions of the UK. And yet the research reveals that the opposite is true. Londoners wait, on average, longer than couples anywhere else in the country: almost two and half years as opposed to just 11 months in Wales, or a year and two months in the north of England.
These statistics point to cohabiting increasingly being seen as an alternative to marriage, and viewed by today’s young couples as a commitment equal to that of getting married. With no stigma attached to living together before marriage for many, cohabiting is not seen as a lesser option. Indeed, for some couples, not getting married is as simple as passing on an expensive wedding and saving up for a house deposit instead.
However, the legal system has not caught up with societal change: unmarried partners still stand to lose everything in the event of a relationship breakdown or the death of their partner. A Cohabitation Rights Bill is in the works, but is unlikely to become law until at least next year.
*A survey of 2,400 UK-based adults aged 18 and over, all in long-term relationships and currently living with their partners, conducted by Hillarys.