Living apart together

Publication type

Book Chapter

Series Number



Changing Relationships


Publication date

June 1, 2008


Most of us are aware of couples who have a steady sexual relationship, but do not live at the same address. While living at different addresses, they regard themselves as a couple and are recognised as such by others. This phenomenon has come to be called ‘living apart together,’ or LAT for short. The chapter addresses a number of questions. How important is the LAT phenomenon? For whom and where in the life cycle? Is it changing over time? What are the expectations of LAT couples regarding the future of their relationship? How does LAT relate to co-residential relationships? For instance, what role does it play in the formation of cohabiting unions and marriages? How long do LAT relationships last? What conditions and events facilitate the conversion of LAT into a co-residential relationship (e.g. job and housing market changes)?
There have been a number of studies of LAT in countries other than Britain and Germany (Levin 2004; de Jong Gierveld 2004; Milan and Peters, 2003), but only two small British studies (Ermisch 2000 and Haskey 2005) and two German studies (Schneider 1996; Traub 2005) have dealt with the issue. These studies do not provide an in-depth analysis of LAT. This chapter bases such an analysis on two sources of data. One is the British Household Panel Study (BHPS) that carried questions about LAT in 1998 and 2003. Using these responses and the other waves of BHPS data (1991-2005) we undertake analyses of LAT in relation to personal characteristics of partners and to past and subsequent patterns of co-residential relationships. The second source of data is the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), which asked questions related to LAT annually over the period 1991-2005. In addition to permitting similar analyses as with the British data (with of course many more observations), these data allow us to analyse the dynamics of LAT (e.g. how long do such relationships last, how do they end?) in more detail.
We find that the LAT phenomenon is very similar in Britain and in Germany. It mainly involves young, never married people aged under 25, with the incidence being particularly high among students. But LAT also occurs after separation/divorce, with one-fifth of LATs coming from this group. LAT is a more common lifestyle for the better educated, irrespective of age. The German evidence suggests that the ‘average’ LAT lasts about 4 years, with about 45% dissolving, 35% being converted into a cohabiting union and 10% converting into a marriage within 10 years. The British evidence suggests, however, that they may be shorter in duration in Britain, and that the LAT partner usually lives close by.

Volume and page numbers

Volume: 29-43 , p.29 -44



by Malcolm Brynin and John Ermisch (eds.)



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