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Partnership status is a person’s status with respect to their current relationship.

The following supporting concepts are defined in the glossary:

  • de facto relationship
  • marriage (legally registered relationship)
  • civil union (legally registered relationship).

Operational issues

Partnership status in current relationship (referred to as 'partnership status') is more difficult to operationalise than legally registered relationship status because the definition of a de facto relationship is less precise than that of a legally registered relationship. While a question on legally registered relationship status is relatively straightforward (for example: "Are you legally married?" or "Are you in a legally registered civil union?") a question on partnership status is more difficult to pose. De facto relationships are defined as "two people who usually reside together as a couple in a relationship in the nature of marriage or civil union" (see the glossary section for full definition).

Respondents may be unwilling to disclose information about their partnership status. For example, some people who are partnered may not report themselves as such in order to conceal the relationship. It is also possible that partnership status might be perceived differently by different respondents. For example, some people may not distinguish between a legally registered relationship and a long-term de facto relationship.

Explanatory notes

Changes since the 1999 review of the statistical standard

The marital status statistical standard, which included both legal marital and social marital status, was updated in 1999 and has been reviewed as part of a review of a suite of household and family classifications between June 2007 and August 2008. As a result, two new statistical standards have been developed; one for legally registered relationship status, which replaces legal marital status; and one for partnership status in current relationship, which replaces social marital status. Both statistical standards are timetabled for review within the next 10 years.

The social marital status classification needed to be updated to better reflect the range of relationships in our society today. De facto relationships (same-sex and opposite-sex) have replaced consensual unions and civil unions (same-sex and opposite-sex) have been incorporated into the classification. Civil unions became an alternative to marriage with the passing of the Civil Union Act 2004, which came into force in April 2005. The definition of de facto relationship has been aligned with the legal definition in the Interpretation Amendment Act 2005. The classification was renamed ‘partnership status in current relationship’ to better reflect its scope.

During the review process it became apparent that, because of the needs of different survey areas both within Statistics New Zealand (including the area, Population Statistics, which processes administrative data supplied by the Department of Internal Affairs) and other Official Statistics System (OSS) collections, it was not possible to create one simple classification that would meet the needs of every data collection.

Flexible approach to classifications

The approach taken was to create a core classification (or master version) for partnership status. The master version is a framework that contains a set of approved levels and categories, as well as a glossary of defined terms. The partnership status master version framework provides a workable solution to a highly complex list of possible alternatives for sample surveys, the Census of Population and Dwellings, and administrative data collections.

This approach provides flexibility for survey areas, as they do not need to use every level of the classification, or need to use every category within a level. The master version can be aggregated to form alternative versions to meet the needs of specific collections. Aggregations will be versions of the master framework and will be developed by the classifications team, in consultation with survey areas, and stored in the Classifications and Related Standards (CARS) database. This will enable more comparison between surveys, as the definitions and conceptual basis will be consistent.

Partnership status information across households

During the review users indicated they would like to be able to collect partnership status information across households. The Report of the Review of Official Family Statistics (2007) discussed families across households as a major area of interest and noted couples living apart together (LATs), which is an emerging social construct.

At the time of the household and families classifications review Statistics NZ surveys were not collecting information about partnered people who live in separate households, and there were no plans to do so in the immediate future. Before this type of information can be collected, the size of this emerging group needs to be monitored, to help determine whether a specialist survey or new questions in an existing survey are required. More research and work is needed to determine what information about partnerships (and families) across households is required and how this information could be collected. Until this work is done it is not possible to construct a classification.

Defining complex social constructs can be difficult particularly when there is inconsistent use of terminology by different people and social groups. For example, someone who has been married and their spouse has passed away may prefer the term 'widowed' and would not want to be referred to as a 'surviving partner', while others may have no preference. Conversely, someone whose civil union partner has passed away may prefer the term 'widowed', while others may not want to be classified this way. One term to cover those who are widowed and those who are surviving civil union partners was not found during this review and the decision was made to use both these terms in the classification.

Classification changes

The partnership status classification remains hierarchical with four levels. The first two levels are simple. The first level classifies people as either partnered or non-partnered. For partnered people, the criterion used at level 2 and 3 is whether the person is a spouse (that is, married), civil union partner, or de facto partner. For non-partnered people, the criterion used at level 2 is whether they have previously been married or in a civil union and the person's partnership status is either separated, dissolved, widowed/surviving civil union partner. Level 3 classifies different types of relationships that have ended, for example 'separated (marriage)' or 'separated (civil union)', and distinguishes between those who are widowed or a surviving civil union partner.

The last two levels are more detailed and are primarily incorporated to cover the administrative data collection for vital statistics. Level four includes opposite-sex and same-sex options where appropriate.

The categories 'first marriage' and 'remarried' have been removed as this information was not needed.

The partnership status master classification will be concorded to the previous New Zealand standard social marital status classification. Each survey-specific version can also be concorded to the master version of the partnership status classification.

These changes were a result of users' requirements, and have enabled a wider variety of surveys to use the standard classification framework.

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