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UK >

Christians more liberal, survey finds

Ed Thornton

by Ed Thornton

Posted: 13 Sep 2013 @ 12:08

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) survey suggests.

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 morality.

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 this.

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 Catholics.

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 so.

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 public mood."

The BSA report is freely available at

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