Social marital status (MDCP)

Latest release
Census of Population and Housing: Census dictionary
Reference period


This variable records a person's relationship status based on their current living arrangements. It identifies whether they form a couple relationship with another person living in the same usual residence, and the nature of that relationship.


Persons aged 15 years and over usually resident and present in the household on Census Night


1Married in a registered marriage
2Married in a de facto marriage
3Not married
@Not applicable
VOverseas visitor

Number of categories: 5

Not applicable (@) category comprises:

  • Persons aged under 15 years
  • Persons who are visitors (from within Australia)
  • Persons in non-classifiable households
  • Persons in non-private dwellings
  • Persons in migratory, off-shore and shipping SA1s

See Understanding supplementary codes for more information.

Category definitions

Question(s) from the Census form

What is the person’s relationship to Person 1/Person 2?

What is the person’s current marital status?

How this variable is created

Data on the relationships people have with others in the same dwelling, including de facto partnerships or social marriages, is from the relationship in household question on the Census form. This variable is derived from the Relationship in household (RLHP) and Registered marital status (MSTP) variables.

Relationships are based off a ‘reference person’. This is usually Person 1 on the Census form. Where this isn’t Person 1, a more appropriate person on the form is chosen during coding. For example, an adult is chosen rather than a child, or in the event of multiple family households, additional reference people are chosen.

To further identify some partnerships, additional information is used during data processing. This includes considering people who were recorded as temporarily absent on Census Night, registered marital status, name, and usual residence. Unless a social marriage is identified for a person, they are regarded as 'not married'.

History and changes

A question on Marital status has been asked in every Census since 1911. A separate variable recording de-facto or social marital status was first created in 1986 and has been used in every Census since then.

In 2011, this variable provided data about how a person is married in a 'social way' (i.e. their current living status), regardless of response to the Registered marital status.

In 2016, the processing of Social marital status was changed to align with ABS Family Standards. A social marital status of 'Married in a registered marriage' is defined as a person who lives with another person in a couple relationship and to whom they are also legally married to in a registered marriage.

In December 2017, amendments to the Marriage Act 1961 came into effect enabling marriage equality for all couples. The amendments removed references to sex or gender and redefined marriage as 'the union of two people to the exclusion of all others'. Registered marriages reported in Census data releases will include same-sex couples and opposite sex couples.

In 2021, no changes have been made to the question on the form. However, changes were made to the way responses were processed as all couples can now be in registered marriages.

Data use considerations

Marriage law changes

Registered marriages now include all couples. Amendments to the Marriage Act 1961 came into effect on 9 December 2017 enabling all couples to legally marry. The amendments removed references to sex or gender and redefined marriage as 'the union of two people to the exclusion of all others'.

No changes have been made to the output categories, however more people will be applicable to category 1 – Married in a registered marriage than in previous censuses. Conversely, less people will be applicable to category 2 - Married in a de facto marriage, and 3 - Not married.

This variable does not have a non-response rate as it is created during Census processing by using responses from more than one question on the Census form. 

Related variables and glossary terms

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