Women turn their backs on marriage

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More women than ever before are turning away from marriage and choosing instead to cohabit outside wedlock, a report said yesterday.

Preliminary results of the 1995 General Household Survey, which provides a snapshot of life in Britain, revealed a fundamental shift in family lifestyles over the last decade, with more women remaining childless or trying to combine a career and family.

The proportion of couples cohabiting has continued to rise throughout the 1990s but reached a peak of one in four of all lone females aged between 18 to 49 in 1995. Between 1979 and 1991, the proportion of single, widowed, divorced, and separated women in that age group who were cohabiting doubled from 11 per cent to 23 per cent.

The General Household Survey, completed by the Office of National Statistics, found that women in their late 20s and men in their late 20s or early 30s were most likely to be cohabiting.

The mean household size has continued to decline gradually and now stands at 2.40 persons, compared with 2.91, and the most common type of household is one with a married couple with no dependent children.

Fewer married or cohabiting couples are having children, with the figure dropping from around 30 per cent in the early 1980s to 24 per cent in 1995.

For those with children, the traditional image of the woman staying at home has taken a severe blow. In the last decade alone, the number of full-time working mothers has trebled and the number working part-time has doubled.

Last year, two-thirds of women were either working, or unemployed and looking for work and those in part or full-time work amounted to nearly 50 per cent.

The proportion of lone parents bringing up children has increased by 8 per cent to 22 per cent between 1971 and 1995 - a three-fold increase.

Olwen Rowlands, who presented the results, said: "These facts are of current interest because of rising concerns over changing family patterns and whether or not cohabitation provides a stable basis for having children."

Despite the contraceptive scare of last year, the Pill still continues to be the most popular way for women to avoidpregnancy. The proportion of women aged 16-49 using the oral contraceptive has risen from 22 per cent in 1989 to 25 per cent in 1995. Following a number of safe-sex campaigns, the proportion whose partners used the condom has also risen, from 13 per cent in 1986 to 18 per cent in 1995.

The British love affair with consumer durables continues; the most sought- after possessions are CD players and microwave ovens. The percentage of households with access to a car or van for private use has risen from 52 per cent in 1972 to 71 per cent in 1995.

Over the same period, the proportion of households with access to two vehicles has increased three-fold (from 8 per cent to 22 per cent).

The results, presented in the bulletin Living in Britain, were obtained from interviews with people aged 16 or over in a random sample of private households. About 18,000 adults from around 10,000 homes are interviewed each year.

Living in Britain: Preliminary Results from 1995 General Household Survey, HMSO, pounds 10

Life in Britain

t One in four women now choose to live with a partner rather than marrying.

Seven out of 10 households now have access to a car or van.

CD players and microwave ovens are the most sought- after purchases. The number of households with CDs has risen from 47 per cent to 52 per cent and microwaves from 67 per cent to 70 per cent between 1994 and 1995.

In 1995 two out of every three households owned their own homes, either outright or with a mortgage. In 1971 just under half of households were owner-occupiers.

The Pill remains the most popular form of contraception, taken by 25 per cent of women.

The proportion of households renting privately fell from a fifth (19 per cent) in 1971 to 7 per cent in 1991, and then rose to 10 per cent in 1995.