Cohabitation harmonised standard

Policy details

Metadata item Details
Publication date:27 November 2020
Owner:GSS Harmonisation Team
Who this is for:Users and producers of statistics
Type:Harmonisation standards and guidance

What is harmonisation?

Harmonisation is the process of making statistics and data more comparable, consistent and coherent.  This harmonised standard sets out how to collect and report statistics to ensure comparability across different data collections in the Government Statistical Service (GSS).

Harmonisation produces more useful statistics that give users a greater level of understanding.

What do we mean by cohabitation?

Cohabitation is the act of living with a partner. These questions ask about whether people are living together as a couple, and as such are a useful appendage to the marital or partnership status harmonised standard. By including these questions as well, outputs can be created where cohabitation takes precedence. For example a divorced couple living together would still be classed as cohabiting despite not being in a legally registered partnership. If the household relationships harmonised standard is being used it is possible to derive cohabitation from the responses, therefore the cohabitation harmonised standard does not need to be used too.

Questions and response options (inputs)

The harmonised question on this topic is designed to collect basic information, for use in the majority of surveys. It is not designed to replace questions used in specialist surveys where more detailed analysis is required.

The question

Question stemResponse options
Are you living with someone in this household as a couple?Yes

Interviewer guidance

For interviewer-led modes, this question can be prefaced with “may I just check”.

Using this standard

In most instances, we suggest that users adopt the household relationship harmonised standard in preference to this standard. Cohabitation can be derived from household relationships. This harmonised standard should be used when household relationships harmonised standard is not appropriate.

Guidance for data collection

This question should be asked of respondents if:

  • they are aged 16 and over
  • there is more than one person in the household
  • the respondent is neither married or in a civil partnership

Only respondents who are living with their partner in this household should be coded as living together as a couple.

You may code “no” without asking the question only if all members of the household are too closely related for any to be living together in a de facto partnership relationship.

Question placement

Demographic questions such as cohabitation are usually placed near the start of a survey. This question can be asked following the marital or partnership status question.

Types of data collection this standard is suitable for

These questions are used in both self-complete (such as online or paper) and interviewer-led (such as telephone or face-to-face) surveys.

Using this question in the Welsh language

This harmonised standard was designed in the English language. At present we do not provide a Welsh language translation, as user demand for this standard is UK wide and Welsh language testing has not been completed to ensure a translation is comparable and appropriate. Harmonised standards based on Census research have been tested in the Welsh language, which is why we are able to provide Welsh versions of them. If you are interested in using a Welsh language version of a harmonised standard that has not been translated, please contact us at

Presenting and reporting the data (outputs)

The analysis is derived from both the question on martial or civil partnership status and the question on cohabitation. Although similar, analysis based on cohabitation means that living arrangements take precedence over legal marital status. For example, if a couple is divorced but cohabiting then they would be classed as cohabiting. Cohabiting refers to those who answer “yes” to the cohabitation harmonised standard.

This standard can be output in one of two ways:

  1. The number of respondents that select each response option.
  2. Summing and categorising response options to show the number of respondents living in a couple and those not.
Individual itemsCategory of items
Married or in a registered civil partnershipAll persons living in a couple
Single, that is, never married and never registered in a civil partnershipAll persons not living in a couple
Divorced or formerly in a civil partnership which is now legally dissolved
Widowed or surviving partner from a civil partnership
Separated but still legally married or in a civil partnership


The questions used to output cohabitation levels come from the GSS harmonised standards of cohabitation and marital or partnership status. This means the outputs are comparable with other surveys that use these standards. However, we would not recommend comparing cohabitation levels from this output to other publications that do not use the harmonised measures.

Related links

Links to other demographic information harmonised standards:


We are always interested in hearing from users so we can develop our work. If you use or produce statistics based on this topic, get in touch by emailing

  • If you would like us to get in touch with you then please leave your contact details or email directly.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.