Underlying concepts

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Family, Household and Income Unit Variables
Reference period

Name of variable

The name of the variable is 'Social marital status'.

Several other alternative terminologies, including 'marital partnership', 'consensual union', 'consensual marital status', 'cohabitation status', 'partnership status', 'whether partnered', 'whether living with a partner', or 'de facto marital status', are not considered as appropriate as the term 'Social marital status' to describe the concept. Similarly, the alternative term 'living arrangements' is confusing as it can also be related to wider household relationships (e.g. whether the respondent lives alone or with others).

Definition of variable

The variable 'Social marital status' is defined as: 

  • a person's relationship status in terms of whether he or she forms a couple relationship with another person who is usually resident in the household.

A couple relationship is based on a consensual union and is defined as two people usually residing in the same household who share a social, economic and emotional bond and who consider their relationship to be a marriage or marriage-like union. This relationship is either a registered marriage or de facto marriage.

According to this concept, a marriage exists when two people live together as a couple, regardless of whether the union is formalised through registration. Individuals are therefore regarded as 'married' if they are in a de facto relationship with a partner, or if they are living with their registered marriage partner.

'Social marital status' is an attribute of the counting unit 'person'.

Operational definition

Operationally, 'Social marital status' is defined as a person's relationship status in terms of whether he or she forms a couple relationship with another person living in the same usual residence, and the nature of that relationship. It is obtained by derivation from the responses to questions in the 'Relationship in household' standard. Derivation of detailed 'Social marital status' requires the collection of broad 'Registered marital status' data as well.

It is not always practical to ask questions which will determine whether the bonding usually associated with marriage exists between two people in statistical collections. Accordingly, a social marriage is deemed to exist when:

  • a registered marriage, de facto marriage or couple relationship (either opposite-sex or same-sex) is reported in response to a question about relationships within the household.


  • when the two individuals concerned are usually resident in the same household.

The definition of 'Social marital status' involves usual residence because it is necessary operationally to consider only relationships between people who usually reside in the same household. The distinction between visitors and usual residents ensures that partnerships are identified only between people who are usually resident in the same household.

Scope of the variable

The variable 'Social marital status' applies to all people aged 15 years and over.

Supporting variables

'Social marital status' requires the supporting variable 'Relationship in household'. Derivation of 'Social marital status' at detailed levels of the classification requires the supporting variable 'Registered marital status'.

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