Marriage is just a lifestyle choice for many Britons

Studies suggest couples are more relaxed about 'living in sin' - but are not so caring about the environment

Britain is moving towards a Scandinavian family model where cohabitation is considered quite normal and marriage is merely a "lifestyle choice", a major study suggests today.

Britain is moving towards a Scandinavian family model where cohabitation is considered quite normal and marriage is merely a "lifestyle choice", a major study suggests today.

Living together is now "widely accepted" in Britain and only one in four people believe married couples make better parents than unmarried couples, the annual survey of British Social Attitudes shows. The report suggests views on marriage have shifted dramatically over the past two decades as increasing numbers of couples choose to cohabit.

The report says: "Britain will probably move towards a Scandinavian pattern where long-term cohabitation is widely seen as quite normal, and where marriage is more of a lifestyle choice."

Marriage is still valued as an ideal, but is "no longer seen as having any advantage over cohabitation in everyday life", said the report, published by the National Centre for Social Research. But teenage parenthood is still frowned upon and most people believe youngsters should have easier access to contraceptives.

More than 15 per cent of couples now cohabit compared with five per cent in 1986, and by 2021, the number is expected to reach 30 per cent. The trend means that a quarter of children are born to cohabitants. Marriage is at its lowest level since 1917 and the divorce rate is the highest in the European Union.

Rather than symbolising a breakdown in family life, the report says there is a "far more complex" mix of cohabitations, separations, marriages and divorces, which many people will experience at some point in their lives. The change means that just 54 per cent of adults now think that "people who want to have children ought to get married" compared with 70 per cent in 1989. Similarly, 62 per cent of adults think there is "nothing wrong" with sex before marriage compared with 42 per cent 12 years ago. But opinion about extra-marital sex has barely changed with six out of 10 people still considering it wrong.

Pensioners have the most traditional views. More than eight out of 10 believe that marriage should precede parenthood. But just one-third of 18 to 28-year-olds think they should go hand in hand.

Views have also softened among religious groups. Just over half of Catholics and two-thirds of Church of England followers now believe people should marry before having children. Despite this, there is considerable support for marriage as an ideal. Only nine per cent dismiss marriage as "just a piece of paper" and nearly 60 per cent think it is still the best kind of relationship. But only 27 per cent of adults think married parents make better parents and barely half the respondents thought married couples had more financial security.

The report warns that government policy has not kept pace with social change and family law still concentrates on the legal rights of married people, treating cohabitants as inferior. This runs counter to the views of a "massive" majority of people who believe the law should treat long-standing cohabitants in the same way as married couples.

The authors call for a radical review of the legal treatment of families in England and Wales. A solution could be to "extend marriage laws to cohabitants of a certain long-standing, whilst enabling them to contract out if they freely wished to make their own arrangements". Such a system exists in Canada and would amount to "the reinvention of common law marriage", which was abolished in 1753.

A second report shows public support for government action to reduce teenage births in Britain, which continue to run at the highest rate in western Europe despite significant falls in other nations. Eight out of 10 people regard teenage pregnancies as a problem, the survey shows, and most think Britain is "far too tolerant."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable