The UK is a nation of happy couples

14 February 2011

Whether you are married or cohabiting with your partner, the vast majority of couples in the UK are happy in their relationship. Initial findings from Understanding Society show that around 90 per cent of individuals who are living with a partner are happy with their relationship.

Researchers at the Institute for Social and Economic Research asked both individuals in the couple to rate their happiness on a seven point scale; from the lowest score of 'extremely unhappy' to the middle point of 'happy', the highest point being 'perfect'.  The self-reported happiness rating revealed that 90 per cent of married women and 88 per cent of cohabiting women are happy in their relationships. Ninety-three per cent of married men and 92 per cent of cohabiting men said they were happy in their relationship.

The findings indicate the happiest couples are those in which both are educated to degree level, have no children, have been together for less than five years and the man is employed. Factors such as being married or cohabiting, age of the individuals and duration of the partnership all have an effect on the level of happiness in a relationship. 

Professor John Ermisch, one of the authors of a book due to be published later this month that showcases a range of findings from the survey, commented: "Understanding Society has opened up many new avenues of research in studying both marriage and family life across the UK’s population and will continue to do so over the years to come."

The study also showed that after taking into account a variety of factors, including age, gender, number of children, relationship duration, employment status and education married people are happier than their cohabiting counterparts.

One of the unique strengths of this study is that the researchers are able to study all members of a household. This means that both partners’ responses can be matched up with one another to give a richer and more detailed analysis than if the information was collected for only one of the partners.

For further information contact

ISER Press Office:

ESRC Press Office:

Notes for editors

  1. The findings above are taken from chapter 2 of ‘Understanding Society: Early findings from the first wave of the UK’s household longitudinal study’. Chapter 2 ‘Family Relationships” by John Ermisch, Maria Iacovou, and Alexandra Skew. This focuses on family relationships analysing the relationship between partners and parents and their children. A non-technical summary of this chapter is available on request from the ESRC Press Office. 
  2. Understanding Society is a world leading study of the socio-economic circumstances in 40,000 British households. The study allows for deeper analysis of a wide range of sections of the population as they respond to regional, national and international change. Understanding Society will greatly enhance our insight into the pathways that influence peoples longer term occupational trajectories; their health and well-being, their financial circumstances and personal relationships. Understanding Society also breaks new ground with its interdisciplinary focus. The study will capture biomedical data on 20,000 participants and place this alongside rich social histories, helping us weigh the extent to which people's environment influences their health. 
  3. Understanding Society has been commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The Research Team is led by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex. The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) delivers the Study.
  4. The ESRC have contributed £27 million towards the funding of Understanding Society, and have successfully secured a total of £19.4 million from the department for Business, Innovation and Skills Large Facilities Capital Fund. A further £2.51 million has been secured from a consortium of Government departments. This initial funding will support the first two waves of the study. It is envisaged that the study will continue for up to 20 years.
  5. The ESRC is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2010/11 is £218 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.