National poll offers unique insight into couples' relationships

A UK-wide survey carried out by leading law firm Seddons in collaboration with think tank, The Marriage Foundation, has found that high house prices are undermining marriage because people can't afford a home and a wedding.

Findings provide national results as well as individual Regional findings for nine areas of England and Wales.

Key findings include:

· Three quarters of 18 to 24-year-olds, and two thirds of people cohabiting, want to get married at some point;

· Some 40 per cent of couples in the capital said they were delaying marriage because it is too expensive to proceed;

· Getting a pet is a better sign that a young unmarried couple will stay together, than having a baby.

· Four in five people think it is important for couples to share financial commitments.

(FULL RESULTS BELOW)

Deborah JeffCommenting on the findings, Deborah Jeff, partner and head of Family law at Seddons (www.seddons.co.uk), said the results demonstrate "a clear need for greater communication between couples both pre-marriage and pre-cohabitation about their future financial commitments to each other and what they intended to happen financially in the event of relationship breakdown.

She added: “Although having a baby together is seen as a sign of commitment, many relationships where there are children still break down. While couples say that they are happy to bring children up without legal agreements or rules about how assets and savings would be shared, this can create problems. While courts can safeguard children’s interests, unmarried partners can be left with very little financial protection. Marriage as a commitment brings enforceable obligations – other forms of commitment may not.

“There’s a real risk that in waiting to get married people build up commitments and obligations, and have children, without the formal commitments or agreements that can protect them. Excuses seem to be found for not quite having got around to marrying but respondents do seem to be able to afford to have children together, a far greater financial commitment for life, aside from the moral and emotional commitment. To my mind this indicates that the reasons given for delay are indeed just excuses because society no longer deems it necessary for a couple to be married in order to have all, or at least some, of the rights, responsibilities and benefits that used to exclusively accompany marriage.”

Sir Paul Coleridge, the high court judge and chairman of The Marriage Foundation, said: “Any relationship creates some constraints. The evidence is very strong that this can be positive in the context of a clear intentional commitment to the relationship. Without such commitment, the build-up of constraints can lead to the breakdown of the relationship. We are deeply concerned that so few people access relationships education at an early stage in the relationship. It is good that most people recognise that they can learn to relate better, and we are committed to promoting better access to relationships education.”

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Results for the following 13 questions are cross-referenced by Gender, Region, Age, Relationship Status, Employment, Salary, Partner's Salary, Partner's Employment Status and Dependents.

To download the full data set that these observations are taken from, please click here.

1. What is your marital status?

The survey polled 3,500 people across nine regions of the UK: 63% female and 37% male. Of these respondents, 48% were already married, 21% were cohabiting and the remainder were single (17%), in a relationship (9%), divorced (3%), widowed (1%) or separated (1%).

By age, singleton percentages went from 34% in the age group 18-24, to 18% from 25-35, to 14% from 35-44, 12% from 45-54 and 5% for 55-year-olds and over.

The same age range for respondents cohabiting begins at 28% for 18-24 and 25-34, falling steadily from 19% at 35-44 to 6% to 55+, as marriage rates rise from 44% for 25-34 year olds, rising to 70% for 55-year-olds and over.

Divorces, by age, rose from 2% for the age group 35-44 up to 11% by 55+.

Regionally, London had the highest percentage of singles (19%), but the second lowest figure for married people (46%).

Nearly 75% of the age category 18-24 stated they wanted to be married in future, and more than a third, between 45-54 years old, said they didn't want to marry.

Divorce was highest in the East Midlands (7%), followed by the South West (6%) and Wales (4%). The smallest percentage of divorces was in East Anglia, at fewer than 2% of respondents, followed by the North-West at 2%.

The percentage of cohabiting couples was broadly the same across East Anglia, the North-West and North-East at around 25%, with London, the South-West, South-East, West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber trailing at around a fifth. The lowest figure for cohabiting couples was in Wales at 15%.

The highest proportion of people in a relationship but not living with a partner was in the South East, with figures across all regions at around 10%, with the exception of the North-West and Yorkshire and the Humber, where the figure was around 6%.

Survey results showed that the more a respondent earned, on successive pay increases, the more likely they were to be married and the less likely they were to cohabit.

Married respondents said three out of four spouses earned £40k p/a or more, compared with less than one in three spouses who earned £40k p/a or less. Just over one in 20 earned £40k p/a or more when in a relationship but not cohabiting, and one-in-five earned within this salary range when cohabiting.

Some 69% of married respondents had children (between one and four), compared to 19% of cohabiting respondents and 5% of singletons. Just over 1% of divorced respondents had children.

2. If not currently married, do you hope to be married at some point?

Nationally, more than twice the number of people who didn't want to be married in their lives (23%), did aspire to marry in future (56%), with both genders of respondents answering almost identically (Yes: F-58%,M-53%, No: F23%,M-23%). A quarter of men polled said they weren't sure, compared to a fifth of women.

With the exception of the North-East (45%), all regions had a near or above 50% ratio of respondents who wanted to get married in their lives, with highs in East Anglia, Yorkshire and the Humber, London (58%) and the South West (57%).

East Anglia had the smallest percentage of respondents who didn't want to be married at 15%, where the North-East had the highest at 40%.

In the Employment status range, the highest proportion of respondents by grouping who said they aspired to be married was by far 'Students' at 73%, with Employed people at 60% and Homemakers at 40%.

The Unemployed were the least likely to want to get married at just 1 in 3, after the Retired group.

3. Do you think you and/or your partner could learn to relate better?

On this question, 69% said "Yes", with a quarter of those admitting there were issues they should discuss but don't or can't, a quarter saying they could learn to handle disagreements better, and a fifth saying they could learn to understand or support each other better.

Response figures were broadly the same for both sexes when asked these questions; except for 35% of men saying they couldn't learn to relate better, compared to 28% of women who said they couldn't. The highest proportion of people who felt they couldn't relate with their partner better, by region, was in Wales, with 41% there saying they couldn't, while the North-East had the lowest number of people saying they couldn't at 26%.

Interestingly, figures were largely consistent across the whole spectrum of age groups.

4. Is it important to share financial commitments as a couple?

Some 82% of people though it was important to share financial commitments in a relationship, as opposed to just 18% who said they didn't think it was important.

Almost all married and cohabiting couples shared most of their official financial commitments (current account, mortgage, household bills), whereas couples who were in a relationship but did not live together shared few listed commitments, however more than 7 out of 10 in this relationship status said they shared finances in the 'none above' category - possibly indicating costs such as entertainment, travel and gifts.

In terms of bank accounts and savings, married couples who shared were nearly double the percentage of those who just lived together.

People who earned more than £50k p/a were significantly more likely than those on lesser salaries to share a current or savings account with a partner.

5. What financial commitments do you currently share?

The three biggest commitments were a joint bank account at 49%, followed by a joint mortgage or rental agreement at 41% and household bills, 40%.

People in East Anglia were much less likely to share the mortgage or rent with a partner (33%) as they were in the East Midlands (53%).

Lower priority bills by importance were joint credit cards at 27% and loans for which both partners are responsible (11%).

Respondents were twice as likely to share a credit card with a partner who earned more than £80k p/a as they were with a partner who earned £25k p/a or less.

6. Have you discussed how financial issues and obligations would be resolved if you separated?

Surprisingly, 82% of people said they had never discussed how their shared financial obligations would be dealt with in the event of a break-up. This figure was equal for men and women. (Yes-F:18%,M:19% -- No-F:82%,M:81%).

People in the West Midlands (35%) were the most likely to discuss financial obligations and people in the South West (12%) were the least likely.

There was an incremental decrease in discussing obligations from the first age group of 18-24 at 21%, down to the last age group of 55+, by which time this had fallen to just 14%.

Percentages of people who had or who had not had this discussion were similar regardless of whether in a married, cohabiting or non-cohabiting relationship. They were also similar regardless of whether they had children or not.

7. When legally separating, should married people be entitled to a greater share of each other's assets and future income than cohabitees, in your opinion?

Nearly a third of respondents thought that married people should be entitled to a greater share of each other's assets and future income than cohabitees, when legally separating, compared to 42% who thought the present system should stay the same. Around a quarter of people (26%) said they didn't know how the legal system governing who gets what on a split should operate.

Both male and female respondents thought married people should be entitled to a greater share at around 30%, and 42% of each thought this should be the same whether you are married or cohabiting.

Nearly double the number of people in the West Midlands thought married people should be entitled to more, than respondents in the east Midlands.

8. Is the fact that courts can rule on how a divorcing couples assets are shared more likely to encourage or discourage marriage?

Bringing into play the question of pre- and post-nuptial agreements, nearly a third of respondents said the fact that courts can rule on how a divorcing couples assets are shared was more likely to discourage marriage, compared to 58% who said it wouldn't make any difference to them, or they didn't know. Figures for this were roughly the same for responses from men and women.

A quarter of respondents in the West Midlands, more than double than in almost every other region, said this was more likely to encourage marriage. The highest percentage of people who thought it would discourage marriage was in the North East.

People who earned more than £50k p/a agreed more than those earning less that courts ruling on how assets are split on divorce was more likely to encourage marriage.

More than three times the number of respondents whose partner was unemployed thought court judgement on assets would discourage them from getting married, compared to those whose partner was employed.

9. Would you be happy to bring up children in a couple relationship without some legal agreement or rules as to how assets and savings would be shared if the relationship broke down?

Equally split was the choice of whether respondents would be happy to bring up children in a couple relationship without some legal agreement or rules as to how assets and savings would be shared, if the relationship broke down, with 53% saying "Yes" and 47% saying they wouldn't. Slightly more men than women said they would be happy to do this (Yes-M:56%,F52%), compared to 48% of women who said they wouldn't and 44% of men who said they wouldn't.

Nearly 60% of 35 to 44-year-olds would be happy to bring up children this way, but this percentage falls to 44% by 55+.

Response figures were generally the same between people who already had children and those who did not.

10. How would you rate the following ways of showing commitment within a couple (with 10 indicating the greatest possible commitment)?

According to the poll, the greatest way a partner can show commitment in a relationship is by having their baby, although getting married, buying a house together and including them in your will followed very closely behind, respectively. Moving in together, opening a joint bank account together and, finally, at the bottom of the ranking, buying a pet together, were all seen as lesser signs of commitment to a relationship. There were no remarkable discrepancies between the views of men and women on these.

There was a leap of up to a third in the proportion of people from the age groups within 18-44, to the age groups within 45-55+, who rated the highest way of demonstrating commitment within a relationship by getting married.

Buying a house together was unanimously popular across all age ranges, and having a joint bank account together doubled in importance for the age group 55+, from all other age groups.

11. What are your reasons for not marrying [if cohabiting]?

For those living with a partner, but not married, excuses for not tying the knot were led by: The cost of the wedding (42%) - with half of all men polled saying this was the reason compared to just over a third of women. This was followed by a quarter of both sexes waiting for their partner to ask them - here over a third of women said they were waiting to be asked, and just under 10% of men. A fifth of people said they just hadn't gotten around to it yet, while 28% of people said marriage wasn't necessary. Around 12% said they'd been put off by other people's divorces, and 15% said it was because they couldn't afford to buy a house together. Some 11% said they didn't like the expectations that being married to their partner would place on them.

More than a third of respondents in the West Midlands said they were waiting for their partners to ask them to marry them but half of cohabiting respondents in the North East said marriage was not necessary, half the percentage of people in London.

A quarter of responders and a fifth of responders in the 45-54 and 55+ groups, respectively, said their reason for not marrying was that they had seen too many divorces as opposed to just one in 10 in all three age groups between 18 and 44.

Nearly a quarter of employed respondents who lived with a partner said they were not getting married because they couldn't afford the wedding, whereas a quarter of unemployed people cohabiting said they were not getting married because they couldn't afford to buy a house together.

The highest earners said they were not putting off getting married because of the cost of the wedding or buying a house until we reach the £80+ p/a individual range, perhaps indicating a greater expectation of opulence/ lavishness of the wedding or desired size of an acceptable marital home, compared to those on more average wages.

Half of respondents whose spouses earned more than £70k p/a were waiting for them to ask for their hand in marriage, compared to a quarter whose spouses earned £40k p/a or less.

12. What do you think best marks the transition from boyfriend/girlfriend to being recognised as a couple by family and friends?

When asked what best marks the transition from being boyfriend/girlfriend to partners, in front of their peers and parents, 45% said living together and 30% said getting married. Only around 1 in 10 thought this was best represented by becoming parents (12%) or buying a house together (9%).

Interestingly, from 18 years up to 55+, the percentage of people who thought getting married best marked the transition increased almost equally with every age group started at 22% and finished at 47%, whereas the percentage of people who thought living together marked the transition best decreased every time by approximately the same amounts but opposite, to marriage, starting with 51% and falling to 31% by the end.

13. Did you access any relationships education/marriage preparation before or in the first few years of marriage/cohabiting?

Some 83% of respondents said they did not access any relationship education or marriage preparation before or in the first few years of marriage or cohabitation.

The highest proportion of people who had sought advice was in the West Midlands (31%), compared to 90% of people who hadn't in the North West, South West and South East.

Of respondents who were divorced, the highest proportion among all groups (including cohabiting and married people) at 92%, admitted they had not accessed any relationship education or marriage preparation.

A quarter of students (the highest proportion) who responded to this question said that they had sought advice, prior.

Respondents were a lot more likely to have sought pre-marital/cohabitation advice when they earned £50k p/a or more.

People who had between 2 and 4 children with their partner were more than double as likely to have sought advice prior to marriage/cohabitation than those who had no children.