Household relationships 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 household relationship?

Household relationships are labels given to represent the relationship of each household member to the others. This is also sometimes known as the relationship matrix or relationship grid; however it is not always displayed in a grid format.

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.

Introducing the question

A possible introduction for this question is:

“There are a lot of changes taking place in the make-up of households and this section is to help find out what these changes are. I’d like you to tell me the relationship of each member of the household to every other member.”

The question

Question stemResponse options
How are members of this household related to each other? [Person 1] is the … of [Person 2].Husband or wife
Legally registered civil partner
Son or daughter (including adopted child)
Son-in-law or daughter-in-law
Father or mother (including adopted parent)
Stepfather or stepmother
Father-in-law or mother-in-law
Brother or sister (including half brother or sister)
Stepbrother or stepsister
Brother-in-law or sister-in-law
Grandson or granddaughter
Grandfather or grandmother
Other relative

Question guidance

For this question, relatives of civil partners and of cohabiting couples are to be treated in the same way as relatives of spouses.

Foster children and foster parents are to be recorded under “unrelated”.

As well as this, the following interviewer guidance can be used for interviewer-led modes:

“Please ask in every case. You should not make assumptions about any relationship. You should probe on this question but be sensitive. It may be that someone described as a “son” or “brother” earlier is actually a stepson or adopted brother. Where possible, we want to know the true relationship. If you have doubts about any relationship, record as much information as possible to allow changes to coding later if appropriate.”

Using this standard

Guidance for data collection

Question placement

This question should be placed after the names of household members have all been collected.

Types of data collection this standard is suitable for

These questions can be used in both self-complete (such as online or paper) and interviewer-led (such as telephone or face-to-face) surveys. In computer assisted interviews (both self-complete and interviewer led), the names can then be piped through so that the question stem reads [NAME] is the … of [NAME]. For paper self-complete surveys this can be set out by asking for names to be filled in alongside labels “person 1”, “person 2” etc.


The questions used to output household relationships come from the GSS Harmonised standard of household relationships. This means the outputs are comparable with other surveys that use this standard.  However, we would not recommend comparing household relationships from this output to other publications that do not use the harmonised measure.

This standard was updated in November 2020. As such, any survey using a previous version of this standard from before this data may not be comparable to those using the existing standard.

In the November 2020 publication, key changes to improve the standard suitability for multi-mode use are:

  • A question stem has been included to allow the standard to be used in self-complete modes.
  • To make this standard more accessible, abbreviated words have been written out in full, and punctuation reduced.
  • Self-complete mode research shows respondents are more familiar with the gendered terms “father and mother” rather than “parent” and find them easier to locate. This standard has been edited accordingly.
  • Testing showed civil partner was confused with common law partner or cohabiting partner, and such the legally registered element has been included.
  • The term “cohabiting” was poorly understood in testing, as such it has been removed leaving the response option stating “partner”.
  • In self-complete the option “other non-relative” does not make sense – “unrelated” (as used in Census 2021 for England and Wales) makes more grammatical sense so has been adopted.

Our users prize comparability with large data sources, such as the Censuses across the UK. Changes have therefore been made to bring the harmonised standard closer to the Census 2021 England and Wales questions:

  • In line with Census 2021 for England and Wales, Census 2021 for Northern Ireland and Census 2022 for Scotland, half siblings are now recorded as siblings rather than as step siblings.
  • The upcoming Censuses across the UK do not have a separate category for “foster” response options, instead categorising them as “unrelated”. To improve comparability with Census data collection we have chosen to remove “foster” options.

When comparing data using the existing household relationship standard to sources using the previous version, please bear these changes in mind as they may influence comparability.

Further information

While reviewing the supporting guidance for this standardthe Harmonisation Team identified that the hard and soft household relationship checks are no longer widely used and may not be appropriate for some modes of data collection. Data collection practices vary across government and include different hard and soft checks than those previously recommended in this guidance. As such, the household relationship checks have been removed from this standard. If you would like to view a copy of the now removed hard and soft checks, please contact us at 

Related links

Demographic information harmonised standards:

Age and date of birth


Household reference person

Marital or partnership status

Full name

Definition of a household


We are always interested in hearing from users so we can develop our work. If you use or produce statistics based on this topic, please contact us at


Date Changes
23 February 2021 Hard and soft data checks have been removed. An explanation for this decision has been added under 'further information'.
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