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Generation sensible: Young most likely to say an affair is never acceptable

26 February 2017


New findings published today by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) reveal that young people in Britain are more likely than older generations to describe a married person having sex with someone other than their partner as “never acceptable”.

The survey from the high quality NatCen Panel found:

-        Two thirds (66%) of people aged 18-34 describe extra-marital sexual relationships as never acceptable compared with less than half (46%) of people aged 55-64.

-        The research also highlights other differences in attitudes, including finding that that men and graduates are less likely to describe extra-marital sex as unacceptable.

A comparison with a similar question asked on NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey suggests that the young have not always been more conservative on this issue. By contrast in the 1980s those aged 18-34 were considerably less likely than other age groups to say that a person having sex someone other than their partner was “always wrong”. The shift in young people’s views appears to have happened gradually over the past 30 years.

Kirby Swales, Survey Centre Director, National Centre for Social Research: “It is striking that young people are more likely than older age groups to say that extra-marital sex is never acceptable. There are a number of possible explanations for this, such as the changing demographic composition of young people, the emergence of ‘generation sensible’, or it could even be a product of growing up with peak divorce rates.​ If this group carry these views into middle age, this could have important implications for our societal values on this and other moral issues.”


Tables containing a detailed breakdown are available here. 

For more information contact Leigh Marshall, 0207 549 8506 or 07828 031850.

1. NatCen Social Research interviewed 1,391 people between 22 September and 24 October 2016, either via the internet or over the phone. All respondents were originally interviewed as part of the random probability face-to-face 2015 British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey. The data have been weighted to take account of differences between the composition of the sample and that of the original BSA sample, as well as to ensure that it matches the known demographic characteristics of the population.

2. On the NatCen Panel, the question wording was: ‘For each of the following things, to what extent do you think they are acceptable? A married person having sexual relations with someone other than his or her partner.’ On BSA, the question wording was: ‘What about a married person having sexual relations with someone other than his or her partner? (What would your general opinion be?)’

3. NatCen Social Research is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone.