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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 January 2008, 09:21 GMT
Pre-marital sex 'more accepted'
Wedding ring
A wedding ring is not a pre-requisite to sex, according to the British
British people are increasingly tolerant of sex before marriage, a survey suggests.

The British Social Attitudes Survey suggests 70% of the 3,000 people polled had no objections to pre-marital sex - up from 48% in 1984.

Only 28% thought married parents brought up children best. And fewer men now think it is "their job" to earn money while the women stay at home.

Survey director Alison Park said: "Our views are becoming much more liberal."

Regarding the notion of married parents bringing up children best, a spokeswoman for the Family and Parenting Institute said: "The quality of the relationship that parents have matters most - not necessarily their marital status."

However, she added: "Evidence suggests that when people get married, their relationship lasts longer. In terms of bringing up children, the longevity of a relationship is obviously important."

'Tolerant Britain'

Authors of the report, by the National Centre for Social Research, say it reveals a "more tolerant and liberal Britain" on attitudes toward sex and marriage, compared to 20 years ago.

On the issues of race and poverty however, the trend is less clear cut.

More than 3,000 interviews were carried out with a representative sample of people across the UK. Interviewees were asked about their attitudes towards marriage, sex, the environment and politics.

As well as a more relaxed attitude towards marriage, the poll suggests that the view of the gender divide in the family home is also shifting.

Only 17% of men polled thought they should be the main breadwinners - down from 32% in 1989.

But while attitudes may be changing, there is less evidence that people's behaviour is following suit.

The fact that there is a gap between what people say and what they are actually willing to do is not hypocrisy. A lot of people are genuinely conflicted on what they should do
Alison Parks, survey director

On housework, nearly eight in 10 people (77%) with partners say that the woman usually or always does the laundry. This has changed little since 1994, when the figure was 81%.

And men and women disagree when it comes to saying how much of the housework they do. Whereas two-thirds of women say that in their relationship they usually or always do the cleaning, just half of the men who were questioned agreed with this.

One of the reports' authors, Professor Rosemary Crompton, said: "People's attitudes towards gender roles have clearly changed, but their behaviour lags behind.

"This is important - a gap between a person's views about gender roles and what actually happens in their own home seems to lead to greater stress at home, for women at least."

Double standards

There is a similar story of apparent double standards when it comes to attitudes towards the environment.

Whereas eight in 10 people thought that current levels of car use have a "serious effect" on climate change, less than half (45%) are both willing to reduce their car use and able to do so.

39% of people in England say they are "British""
14% of Scots describe themselves as "British"
46% of English natives say they are "equally English and British"
21% of Scottish natives say they are "equally Scottish and British"

Alison Parks said: "The fact that there is a gap between what people say and what they are actually willing to do is not hypocrisy. A lot of people are genuinely conflicted on what they should do.

"Rather, I believe that there are often factors that stand in the way of people's aspirations.

"For instance, on reducing car use, it could be that inadequate public transport, or concerns about personal safety are discouraging people from catching the bus.

"On housework, the UK has one of the longest working-hours culture in Europe - it could be that if we want men to help out around the house more, they need to spend less time at the office.

"What we need to do is look at what is stopping people making that final step, and then come up with a way of encouraging them to take it."

Concern about the gap between those on high and low incomes remains high.

A total of 34% of people surveyed wanted the government to raise taxes and redistribute income. This represents a fall from 47% in 1995.

Bucking the trend

If anything bucks the general trend suggested by the survey of a "more tolerant Britain" they are the twin issues of race and poverty.

One in four people now think that poverty is due to "laziness or lack of willpower" - up from one in five in 1986.

And while prejudice against homosexuals has fallen, there has been an increase in the number of people (30%) who describe themselves as prejudiced against people of other races, compared to 2001 (25%).

The report's authors say the rise in racial prejudice "is likely to reflect the impact of events such as 9/11".

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