Marital or partnership status harmonised standard

This harmonised standard is under development. We plan to review and update it, as set out in the GSS Harmonisation Workplan.

You can find more information in the ‘GSS Harmonisation Workplan’ section of this page. If you would like to be involved with this work, please contact us at

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 marital or partnership status?

Marital and partnership status refers to legal marital and partnership status, otherwise known as civil status. This does not necessarily mean relationship status, because some relationship statuses such as “engaged” or “in a relationship” are not legally recognised. This standard can be used in conjunction with the cohabitation or household relationships harmonised standards for greater exploration relationships within a household.

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
What is your legal marital or registered civil partnership status?Never married and never registered in a civil partnership.
In a registered civil partnership.
Separated, but still legally married.
Separated, but still legally in a civil partnership.
Formerly in a civil partnership which is now legally dissolved.
Surviving partner from a registered civil partnership.

Using this standard

Guidance for data collection

Question placement

Demographic questions such as marital or partnership status are usually placed near the start of a survey.

Types of data collection this standard is suitable for

Variations on this standard are used in many different modes, such as face-to-face, telephone, paper and online.

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:

Presenting and reporting the data (outputs)

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 in legally registered partnerships or not.

In some cases, it may be necessary to split marriage and registered civil partnerships if this detail is required.

Individual response optionCategory of response options
MarriedAll in a legally registered partnership
In a registered civil partnership
Separated, but still legally married
Separated, but still legally in a civil partnership
Never married and never registered in a civil partnershipAll not in a legally registered partnership.
Formally in a civil partnership which is now legally dissolved
Surviving partner from a registered civil partnership


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

Comparability with previous versions of this standard

This harmonised standard was updated in November 2020. The response options and outputs from the existing harmonised standard have direct counterparts in the previous standard. This means data collected under the previous standard can be mapped to this standard, allowing for comparisons.

Despite this, there are some changes which may impact the comparability between the previous and current standard. All of the updates to this standard have been tested.

The previous version of this standard included the response option “single, that is, never married and never registered in a civil partnership”. Due to the F-shaped reading pattern in self-complete modes, research suggested that respondents may only read ‘single’ and not read the qualifying information and miscategorise themselves. Therefore, the word “single” has been removed.

Research has also demonstrated confusion in respondents between common law marriage and civil partnership. To clarify this, the term ‘registered’ has been included in mentions of civil partnership.

To improve clarity and interpretation of the question, the question stem has also been updated. Research suggested that the previous version of the standard (“Are you …”) could incorrectly output lawful marital status. For example, someone can be divorced and remarried, and accurately answer the question as “divorced” despite their lawful status being “married”. As such, the question stem has been updated to explain what it is respondents are being asked for: “What is your legal marital or registered civil partnership status?”.

GSS Harmonisation Workplan

In February 2022, the GSS Harmonisation Team published the GSS Harmonisation Workplan. The team are based in the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The workplan shows that we will work with data processors and collectors to understand more about user needs for the marital or partnership status harmonised standard. User feedback suggests there may be more user needs that we need to meet with this standard. We may update the standard or provide guidance to address this.

If you would like to be involved with this work, please contact us at

Related links

Links to 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, contact us by emailing

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