Hover over any part of the visualization to get more details.

Data of the United Kingdom: Marriages and Civil Partnerships

by Sam Pottinger (data scientist, Gleap LLC)

lgb = lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and others that would take advantage of same sex civil partnerships.

* = These "rates" represent the number of marriages / divorces per estimated non-lgbq (non-gay) person and the number of civil partnerships / dissolutions per estimated lgbq (gay) person.

Unyielding polarization frequently defines the US LGBTQA rights debate (Pew Research Center). Yet, to little fanfare in the states, the United Kingdom's first same-sex marriage took place on the 29th of March 2014 (Saul), marking a long-awaited alternative to the civil partnerships first extended to the UK's homosexual citizenry in 2005**. This nation-wide social rights policy evolution naturally asks what data the UK generated leading up to this historic development and what that rare nation-wide trove of statistics can add to this still active debate's new chapter. Luckily, armed with excellent work from the United Kingdom's Office for National Statistics, this visualization-based retrospective examines the pairing and divorcing habits in the LGBQ and non-LGBQ UK populations, possibly hinting at what to expect in the age of same sex marriage.

While this report offers a discussion of caveats below, the data first emphasize the small number of same-sex civil partnerships as compared to opposite-sex marriages even after adjusting for the estimated size of the UK LGBQ population (Campbell). In fact, the rates of LGBQ persons filing for civil partnerships appear to lag at around half of their "straight" counterparts. Of course, this data alone cannot explain this disparity but immediate possibilities include: Finally, even after acknowledging the short history for civil partnerships (which are same-sex only) and, thus, less time for the same-sex equivalence of divorce to emerge, same sex couples seem to not only enter civil partnerships at lower rates but leave those partnerships less frequently as compared to their straight counterparts.

In addition to these differences in the sheer numbers of those marrying and registering for civil partnerships, the age and gender distributions of marriages, divorces, partnerships, etc. reveal some differences not only between but within the LGBQ and "straight" communities. First, the age distribution of those getting married seems slightly younger than those registering for civil partnerships but, inversely, those ending their civil partnerships appear younger than those filing for divorce. It also appears, in corroborating prior studies (Dugan), females file for dissolutions of their civil partnerships at higher numbers than their gay male counterparts while, somewhat intuitively, the data do not show the same gender imbalance for straight divorces. Meanwhile, the tendency for men to file for a marriage or partnership later in life seems to hold true for both "straight" and LGBQ citizens while LGBQ females seem to tie the knot later in life than their non-LGBQ counterparts. Lastly, as compared with the overall population distributions at the bottom of the graphic, these age-based trends seem irrelevant of the age distribution of the population at large, trends resilient even though that overall population age distribution changes between 2005 and 2011.

All that being said, this visualization may ultimately highlight similarities in the pairing behaviors of the two populations instead of the aforementioned differences. First, the LGBQ populations mirrored their "straight" counterpart's brief dip in marriage rates centered around 2009, possibility indicating that the two populations experience and similarly respond to the same macro-level socioeconomic pressures. Furthermore, preliminary trends in the two populations' divorce rates also seem to mimic each other through time (longitudinal similarity), although these sample sizes remain small and additional data would increase certainty. Of course, even in light of the aforementioned differences in the gender and age dynamics of pairing / separation activity, both populations overall exhibit a striking similarly shaped age distribution (normal / bell) of union and divorce with proportions very alike to each other throughout multiple years, further emphasizing the similarities between the groups.

The shared attributes of these populations seem to reflect shared behavior at core of human experience within the UK and this ultimately emphasizes the common humanity in the groups the data represent. However, after getting past the mundane recognition that human mating practice within a culture seems, well, common to the humans within that culture, this research can then turn to some very real differences between the two populations. Namely, this inquiry instead emphasizes that even the common estimation that 6% of the UK population is gay may remain too high and, thus, that the small number of LGBQ may impact both their lower rates of pairing (harder to find a mate) and, possibly in addition to the necessity of recognizing and revealing their sexuality amid negative social pressure, their tendency to pair later in life. Lastly, while work remains to extrapolate the trends within the UK to other western cultures, this baseline study recognizes the possibility of similar dynamics beyond her majesty's borders.

Sam Pottinger
Published May 5, 2014. Sam is a freelance data scientist, software engineer, and visualization specialist. More at Gleap.org.

See sources and data combined from multiple sources. Open sourcing of both Python and JavaScript code coming soon. d3.js used extensively.

** Note that 2008 was the first full year covered by a government report detailing civil partnership disillusion (same sex divorce) information (Office for National Statistics) and thus statistics for civil partnerships starts that year in the above graphic. Moreover, at the time of this report, 2012 statistics remain provisional for civil partnerships and thus the visualization ends with 2011. Although, please note that marriage data for 2011 was technically provisional but kept to ensure an adequate number of years. Additionally, without being exclusionary, this report focuses on those who would file for same sex marriage which, for the sake of simplicity, was referred to as LGB or LGBQ. However, this could extend to the asexual communities (which may participate in both marriages and civil partnerships) and beyond. Finally, the LGBQ data was adjusted using common LGBQ population size estimations provided by HMS Treasury (Jowit) and the analysis was done entirely off of visual inspection, leaving much room for future more statistically rigorous analysis.