The efficiency of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) made from organic semiconductors is determined by the fraction of injected electrons and holes that recombine to form emissive spin-singlet states rather than non-emissive spin-triplet states. If the process by which these states form is spin-independent, the maximum efficiency of organic LEDs will be limited to 25 per cent1. But recent reports have indicated fractions of emissive singlet states ranging from 22 to 63 per cent2±5, and the reason for this variation remains unclear. Here we determine the absolute fraction of singlet states generated in a platinum-containing conjugated polymer and its corresponding monomer. The spin-orbit coupling introduced by the platinum atom allows triplet-state emission, so optically and electrically generated luminescence from both singlet and triplet states can be compared directly.We find an average singlet generation fraction of 22 6 1 per cent for the monomer, but 57 6 4 per cent for the polymer. This suggests that recombination is spin-independent for the monomer, but that a spin-dependent process, favouring singlet formation, is effective in the polymer. We suggest that this process is a consequence of the exchange interaction, which will operate on overlapping electron and hole wavefunctions on the same polymer chain at their capture radius.