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Monday, 26 November, 2001, 13:25 GMT
Children before marriage 'more acceptable'
Fewer people believe couples should get married before starting a family, a survey suggests.

In 1989 seven out of 10 people believed children should be born in wedlock, but now only 54% do, according to the annual survey by the National Centre for Social Research.

A quarter of those interviewed thought married couples made better parents than unmarried ones.

A clear majority (67%) thought cohabitation was acceptable, even if a couple did not intend to get married.


Cohabitation is widely accepted as a prelude to marriage and as an alternative, even where there are children involved

Alison Park, researcher
Researcher Alison Park said: "Cohabitation is widely accepted as a prelude to marriage and as an alternative, even where there are children involved.

"There's a clear suggestion that values will continue to shift in a more liberal direction in years to come."

The report into changing social attitudes concludes that politicians should respond to public opinion and modernise family law to give cohabitants the protection available to married couples.


Six out of 10 young people thought marriage was still the best kind of relationship, said the survey.

But they were unconvinced about the need for marriage, with only a third of 18- to 24-year-olds thinking marriage should precede parenthood.

Teenage contraception

More than one in five 25-34-year-olds currently cohabit, making them the most likely age group to do so.

The report suggested there was strong support for making contraception more easily available to teenagers, with 63% in favour.

The UK has the highest teenage birth rate in western Europe.

More than half those surveyed (54%) thought pregnancy rates would fall if more advice was given at school about sex, contraception and relationships.

Three-quarters thought teenage pregnancy rates would fall if more parents talked to their children about the subject.

More than three-fifths (62%) thought television and advertising put teenagers under "too much pressure to have sex before they are ready".

Confusion

Many of those surveyed were confused about cohabitation and the law.


Ms Pars said six out of ten of those questioned falsely believed there was something called 'common law marriage' which gave cohabiting couples the same rights as married ones.

"Even if politicians don't change the law there needs to at least be a discussion about cohabitees," she said.

The survey also found that 91% of cohabitants did not have written agreements about their shares in the ownership of the family home, leaving many without entitlement if the relationship broke down or partner died.

The findings form part of the18th British Social Attitudes report.

Each survey consists of interviews with more than 3,000 adults.

See also:

10 Nov 00 | Scotland
Lone parents 'living in poverty'
17 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Bishop regrets divorce decision
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