The latest annual British Social Attitudes report confirms that people’s views on marriage are more liberal than they were 20 years ago.
The report, entitled ‘New families? Tradition and change in modern relationships’, is published today (23 January 2008) by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and is authored by Professor Simon Duncan from the University of Bradford and Miranda Phillips, Senior Researcher at NatCen.
The report finds that more ‘traditional’ attitudes persist when it comes to the kind of household seen as appropriate for raising children and men’s views about marriage and parenting tend to be more traditional than women’s.
The last two decades have seen huge changes in family life. The number of single-person households has increased, cohabitation has increased and marriage rates are at their lowest since 1986.
NatCen’s report finds that our views about marriage, the family and personal life have become less ‘traditional’:
• Seven in ten people (70%) think that there is nothing wrong with sex before marriage, compared with five in ten (48%) in 1984
• Two-thirds of people (66%) think there is little difference socially between being married and living together
• Only one in four people (28%) think married couples make better parents than unmarried ones
The majority see alternative and unconventional family forms as good enough for everyday life:
• A majority (54%) agree that a couple do not need to live together to have a strong relationship
• 69% agree that it is not necessary to have a partner to live a happy and fulfilled life, and only 10% thought that people who choose to live alone are not good at relationships
• As many as 61% think that single women should be allowed to use donor sperm in order to become pregnant
• Only 18 % take the view that homosexual relationships are always wrong (although 32% see sex between adults of the same sex as always or mostly wrong)
Men are more traditional in their views than women:
• A third of men (34%) think that married couples make better parents than unmarried ones, compared with 23% of women
People’s views become more traditional when children are concerned, especially where less conventional arrangements are involved such as single or gay parents:
• Three in ten people (30%) think that it should be harder for couples with children aged under 16 to get divorced. Four in ten people (38%) disagree
• Only four in ten people (42%) think one parent can bring up a child as well as two parents. A similar proportion of people (41%) disagree
• Four in ten people (42%) disagree with the view that a gay male couple are as capable of being good parents as a man and a woman. Three in ten people (31%) agree
• Nine in ten people (90%) think that donor insemination should be allowed for a couple who cannot have children naturally. This falls to six in ten (61%) in the case of a single woman
Simon Duncan, Professor of Comparative Social Policy at the University of Bradford and co-author of the report, said: “The heterosexual married couple is no longer central as a social norm. But views are more traditional when it comes to bringing up children.
“‘Children seem to hold a particular position in people’s attitudes to family life. When they are involved, alternative family arrangements are seen as less acceptable.”