How to find out if your congregation is representative of the local area

Editorial Note: The Office for National Statistics has changed some of the ways that it delivers the relevant information about the marital status and living arrangements of people in local areas.  We will be updating this article soon. 


By using the Office for National Statistics data you can determine the marital status of those living in your parish or area and identify if your congregation is representative or not. First, we include a definition of single and distinguish between 'being single' and 'feeling single'.

What do we mean by single adult?

According to the Office for National Statistics, 17 million people – one in three – aged over 16 are single.  Even among the 25-64 age group, which is most likely to be partnered, the figure is three in 10 (30%).

The term ‘single’ generally applies to those who are: never married, divorced, widowed and not cohabiting. Any of these may or may not have dependent children.


Single adult households

Separately, there is a big rise in those living on their own. Although the majority are single, they include those who are separated and not yet divorced, those cohabiting or married who choose to retain separate living spaces for work or personal reasons, as well as single parents living with dependent children.

Being single and feeling single

It is helpful to distinguish between those who are single under the above definition and those who feel single.

Many singles don’t think of themselves as being so, particularly the under 25s. They only start to feel it when they approach 30 and their friends are marrying. The average age of first marriage is around 30 in the UK (30.5 for men and 28.2 for women).

Many widows and widowers do not consider themselves as single, but as married with their spouse having passed on. On the other hand, it is perfectly possible sometimes to feel ‘single’ inside a marriage. There are also some who enjoy and expect to be single for all their lives, but think of themselves as complete, without the need for such a label.

The purpose of distinguishing the feeling from the definition is that many adults who are single want to reject any sense of being defined by being so. They think there is a stigma about ‘single’, arousing in others an expectation of pity or desire to help find a partner; they wish to be known as persons who happen to be non-partnered.

How to find the number of single people in your area

The easiest way to get approximate data on family and marital status for your parish or area of concern is by using the UK Office for National Statistics:

Go to:

Enter the name of an area OR full postcode

Select the type of area you need statistics for

Enter Ward 

Is the map an acceptable approximation for your area? If not, return to previous screen and select from the last item on the list ‘Other areas’.

(Please note that 'Parish' here means ‘Civil Parish’ which may be different to your church parish or area of concern. Also not all areas have Civil parishes.  For maximum accuracy, choose Output Area, which is a small area, and add them together to get figures for the area you are interested in.)

From the list of options, choose:

People and Society: Population and Migration (41 datasets)

And then:

Marital Status, 2001 (KS04) (2001)

As of September 2013, they have not uploaded the area-specific data on marital status. These are being added gradually and should appear soon.

This is useful as it gives percentages (rather than the other dataset for Marital Status that just gives counts).

What is particularly useful is a comparison with the County/Metropolitan Area and the whole of England. This can tell you if you are typical, or if some other factor stands out.

Doing this for the Political Ward in which I live, I discover that 62% of all over-16 year olds are single adults (that is never married, divorced and not re-married, and widowed). However you cannot from this dataset tell how many are cohabiting.

Cohabiting data

Cohabiting data is scattered and there are a number of useful sources. This is the best summary on the latest data.

In 2012, 11.7% of 16+ adults in UK were cohabiting. The median age of those cohabiting (in other words, half are younger and half are older), is 34.3. The biggest rises are among older age groups, many of whom are divorced and choosing not to remarry.

There is very wide variation, with the lowest percentage being in London and highest local authorities being Norwich, Brighton and Hove and Lincoln.

Living alone

Some 30% of people in the UK live alone (note this is much lower than the percentage who are single). This has not increased since 2001, but the absolute number has done so as a result of the growth in the population of the UK. The useful report about living alone based on Census 2011 data is given here by downloading the PDF link at the top of the page.

There is also an interactive map that is useful to which to apply to your parish or area of concern.

The combination of these three investigations should provide an excellent guide to the number of single adults in your local area.