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Changing attitudes to family life, report reveals

Date:24 JAN 2008

The latest annual British Social Attitudes report confirms that peoples views on marriage are more liberal than they were 20 years ago. But it also finds that more traditional attitudes persist when it comes to the kind of household seen as appropriate for raising children. And mens views about marriage and parenting tend to be more traditional than womens.

According to the report, 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. The finding, based on the views of more than 3,000 adults, come in a report published yesterday by NatCen who have been conducting the surveys since 1983.

According to the poll, 66% of people think there is little difference socially between being married and living together, a view which may in part explain why 70% think that there is nothing wrong with sex before marriage, compared with 48% in 1984.

Men are more traditional in their views than women, 34% think that married couples make better parents than unmarried ones, compared with 23% of women.

The report also revealed that people are confused about the legal consequences of living together outside marriage. Despite a government-funded media campaign three years ago, half of adults still wrongly believe that there is such a thing as 'common law marriage', which gives cohabitants the same rights as married couples.

Cohabitation remains a popular choice of relationship in Britain with 36% of people having cohabited in the past, and 11% currently cohabiting. However, only 15% of cohabitants who own their accommodation have a written agreement about their share in the ownership, and only 19% have sought advice about their legal position.

Professor Anne Barlow, co-author, said: "There is little appetite for maintaining the deep legal divisions drawn between married and unmarried cohabiting families. The Law Commission should bear this in mind in their review of current legislation."