CHRISTIANS have become more tolerant of pre-marital sex,
homosexuality, and abortion over the past 30 years, as society
becomes more liberal, the latest British Social Attitudes (BSA)
The 30th BSA survey, published on Tuesday by NatCen Social
Research, is based on detailed interviews with a representative
sample of 3000 people in 2012. Such interviews have been carried
out since 1983, examining public views on society, politics, and
When the first BSA survey was published in 1983, 28 per cent of
those surveyed thought that sex outside marriage was "always" or
"mostly" wrong, and 42 per cent thought it "not wrong at all". In
2012, only 11 per cent of those surveyed thought that pre-marital
sex was "always" or "mostly" wrong, and 65 per cent thought it was
"not wrong at all".
The survey suggests that Christians have also become more
accepting of pre-marital sex over the past 30 years. In 1983, for
instance, 31 per cent of Anglicans who were surveyed said that
pre-marital sex was "always" or "mostly" wrong; in 2012, only ten
per cent thought this.
When first asked, in 1989, whether "people who want children
ought to get married", 71 per cent of all those surveyed agreed,
and 17 per cent disagreed. By 2012, the proportion agreeing had
dropped to 42 per cent, and the proportion of those disagreeing had
risen to 34 per cent.
In 1989, more than three-quarters of Anglicans surveyed (78 per
cent) thought that people should marry before having children. In
2012, just over half of Anglicans (54 per cent) thought this. Roman
Catholics have become even more accepting of having children
outside of wedlock: in 1989, 73 per cent thought people should
marry before having children; in 2012, just 43 per cent thought
Attitudes towards homosexuality have softened since 1983 among
Christians and non-Christians, the survey suggests. Thirty years
ago, half of all those surveyed thought that "sexual relations
between adults of the same sex" were "always wrong". By 1987, this
had risen to two-thirds, "no doubt at least partly reflecting some
of the debates surrounding HIV/AIDS", the survey says. Attitudes
towards same-sex relationships have since "become far more
tolerant", however. In 2012, 22 per cent said that sexual relations
between people of the same sex were "always wrong", and nearly half
(47 per cent) said that they were "not wrong at all".
In 1983, 63 per cent of Anglicans and 67 per cent of Roman
Catholics said that same-sex relationships were "always" or
"mostly" wrong. In 2012, this had dropped to 40 per cent of
Anglicans and 35 per cent of Roman Catholics.
Anglicans and Roman Catholics have also adopted a more accepting
attitude towards abortion. In 1983, 34 per cent of Anglicans and 25
per cent of Roman Catholics said that the law should allow an
abortion if a woman did not wish to have the child and her health
was not seriously endangered by the pregnancy. In 2012, this had
risen to 56 per cent of Anglicans and 39 per cent of Roman
The public attitude in society at large towards a woman's right
to choose an abortion when the pregnancy is not life-threatening
has become more accepting still. In 1983, only 37 per cent
supported a woman's right to choose; in 2012, 62 per cent did
The BSA survey says that there has been a "decline" in religious
observance over the past 30 years: in 1983, 40 per cent of those
surveyed described themselves as Anglican, but in 2012 only 20 per
cent did so.
But it cautions against attributing the liberalisation of social
attitudes to the decline in religious observance, because "this
does not account for the fact that most religious groups have
themselves become more accepting over the past 30 years. . . The
fact that many religious people are more liberal now than they once
were suggests that other forces are more important." Such forces
could include education, party affiliation, and newer generations'
being more liberal.
The BSA survey also suggests that public attitudes to welfare
have softened over the past year, having hardened in recent years.
For example, the view that benefits for unemployed people were "too
high, and discourage work" fell from a high of 62 per cent in 2011
to 51 per cent in 2012.
The head of society and social change at NatCen Social Research,
Alison Park, said that, over the past 30 years, "the nation has
become much more cynical about the welfare state and benefit
recipients, but austerity seems to be beginning to soften the
The BSA report is freely available at www.bsa-30.natcen.ac.uk
Question of the week: Have you
become more liberal over the years?