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Living in sin north of the border

Posted on 10 February 2011 .
Tags: SSA, Scottish Centre for Social Research, Scottish Social Attitudes, social and political attitudes

It's National Marriage Week and Iain Duncan Smith marked it with a speech celebrating the virtues of marriage. He wants extra financial help for married couples and those in civil partnerships, arguing that marriage is the foundation for stable families, and that stable families result in better outcomes for children.

So I wonder what he would make of our latest research, on attitudes to marriage north of the border?

Rachel Ormston shared the latest findings from the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey at the Institute of Government yesterday.  She was testing the hypothesis that Scottish moral attitudes might be more conservative than those south of the border. This was not the case: the findings were that Scots have become socially more liberal pretty much in line with the English.

IDS tends to acknowledge that he's fighting against the tide, recognising that he doesn't have a majority of the public with him. And so he might be disappointed but not surprised to learn that that two thirds of Scots (69%) think it is alright for a couple to live together without intending to get married: exactly the same proportion as in England.  But perhaps people think that it's only alright until you want to have kids? In fact, this doesn't change things: only one third of Scots (36%) say that people who want to have children ought to get married.  What's more, there has been a huge drop in the numbers who think you ought to get married if you want to have kids:   around one half % of Scots thought this a decade ago (54% in 2000), down by 18 points to 36% in 2010.

As you'd expect from the previous chairman of a think tank, IDS' speech was rich in evidence from a wide range of sources, including the Centre for Social Justice, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies. But it wasn't all highbrow. IDS also referenced Hello: citing one possible source of marriage breakdown on the sheer cost of 'Hello' style marriages (an average of £20K per marriage), causing young couples to start their wedded life with huge levels of debt.  I don't know whether he's right on this point, but it's clear that on both sides of the border, many people are rather more relaxed about having children out of wedlock than he'd like.

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