LONDON (AFP) — Britons are taking a more liberal attitude toward sex and marriage, but retain traditional views on how best to raise children, an annual report said Wednesday.
A majority now think there is nothing wrong with sex before marriage and society is increasingly comfortable with gay relationships, according to the 24th annual report by the National Centre for Social Research.
Entitled "New Families? Tradition and Change in Modern Relationships," the study found that men's views about marriage and parenting tend to be more traditional than women's.
The survey follows major changes in family life, the study's authors say. The number of single-person households and cohabitation is on the rise, while marriage rates are at their lowest since 1986.
Meanwhile civil partnerships -- dubbed "gay marriages" -- which give homosexual couples similar rights to wedded heterosexual couples, have been legal in Britain since December 2005.
The random survey of 3,000 people found that 70 percent think sex before marriage is fine, compared with 48 percent in 1984.
Two-thirds of those polled (66 percent) think there is little difference socially between being married and living together, while 54 percent believe that couples do not need to live together to enjoy a strong relationship.
Sixty-nine percent believe it is not necessary to have a partner to live a happy and fulfilled life, and just 10 percent think that people who choose to live alone are not good at relationships.
Meanwhile, some 61 percent think single women should be allowed to use donor sperm to become pregnant.
"The heterosexual married couple is no longer central as a social norm. But views are more traditional when it comes to bringing up children," said Simon Duncan, professor of comparative social policy at the University of Bradford in northern England, who co-authored the report.
On another subject -- homosexuality -- 18 percent of those surveyed consider gay relationships are always wrong, while 32 percent see homosexual sex as always or mostly wrong.
Moreover, four in 10 people (42 percent) think gay male couples are not as capable of being good parents as heterosexual ones -- although three in 10 (31 percent) believe they are.
The survey revealed conflicting sentiments about single parents, with only four in 10 (42 percent) polled believing one parent can raise a child as well as two. But almost the same number, 41 percent, disagreed.
"Children seem to hold a particular position in people's attitudes to family life. When they are involved, alternative family arrangements are seen as less acceptable," Duncan said.
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