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Is Britain getting a divorce from marriage?

09 May 2016

New analysis of NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey suggests that the British public is reaching a tipping point in its views on marriage.

For the first time since NatCen started asking whether people who want to have children ought to be married, the proportion who disagree (35%) is almost the same as those who agree (37%).

Back in 1989, seven people in ten (70%) felt that people should be married if they want to have children, compared with less two in ten (17%) who disagreed.

Older people and people who are religious are more likely to believe that people who want children should marry, however they are still much less likely to hold these views than in the 1980s. In 1989, 78% of Anglican’s said that people who want children should be married, but this had fallen to less than half (47%) in 2014.  

 marriage chart (1)

-       There has also been an increase in the proportion of people who believe that there is little difference between being married and living together, in the last decade or so. In 2014, three quarters of people (74%) held this view, compared with two thirds (66%) in 2006. 

-       Meanwhile a significant majority (62%) also believe that it is just as difficult for unmarried parents to separate as it is for married parents.

Ian Simpson, Senior Researcher, NatCen Social Research said: “We seem to be reaching a tipping point for traditional views of marriage. For the first time the same proportion of people disagree that people who want children should get married as agree. Interestingly this change has happened across society. Even people who consider themselves to be religious are far less likely to think you need to be married to have children than in the past. Our views on marriage and relationships have changed a lot in the past 30 years. People are more accepting of same-sex marriages, are more accepting of people living together without getting married and are less likely to think that men should go out to work while women stay at home.”


For more information contact:

Leigh Marshall, 0207 549 8506/07828 031 850


  • NatCen Social Research, Britain’s largest independent social research organisation, aims to promote a better-informed society through high quality social research (
  • The 2014 survey consisted of 2,878 interviews with a representative, random sample of adults in Britain. Interviewing was mainly carried out between August and October 2014, with a small number of interviews taking place in November 2014.