BSA 40: A liberalisation in attitudes?

This chapter examines the substantial liberalisation in moral attitudes that has taken place over the past four decades.
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Two women and their baby
  • Author:
    Elizabeth Clery
  • Publishing date:
    21 September 2023

Key findings

This chapter examines the substantial liberalisation in moral attitudes that has taken place over the past four decades, focusing on family formation, sexual relationships, and abortion. How universal has this process been and what factors are driving it – changes in the public’s demographic make-up, changes in how society deals with these issues in terms of legislation and popular discussion, or changes in our behaviour? What do long-term trends to date suggest will happen in the future and how might they help us to understand more recent data on attitudes to people who are transgender?

Greater acceptance of non-traditional family forms and sexual

While we are much more accepting of non-traditional family forms and sexual relationships than we were four decades ago, there is no clear consensus regarding the acceptability of various
family forms when children are involved.

  • 81% think it is all right for a couple to live together without being married, up from 64% in 1994.
  • 67% think a sexual relationship between two people of the same sex is never wrong, compared with 17% in 1983.
  • 45% disagree that people who want children ought to get married (24% agree) and 50% agree one parent can bring up a child as well as two (31% disagree).

Support for abortion has increased but depends on context

People are more likely to think an abortion should be allowed in a range of circumstances compared with four decades ago, although there is less universal support when there is no health risk involved.

  • Support for an abortion being allowed in circumstances when the woman decides on her own that she does not want to have a child has risen from 37% in 1983 to 76% now.
  • Most people think abortion should be allowed when the woman’s health is seriously endangered by the pregnancy (95%) or when there is a strong chance of the baby having a serious health condition (89%); 72% express this view when the couple cannot afford any more children and 68% when the woman does not wish to marry the man.

Decline in liberal views regarding people who are transgender

Attitudes towards people who are transgender have become markedly less liberal over the past three years.

  • 64% describe themselves as not prejudiced at all against people who are transgender, a decline of 18 percentage points since 2019 (82%).
  • Just 30% think someone should be able to have the sex on their birth certificate altered if they want, down from 53% in 2019.
  • While women, younger people, the more educated and less religious express more liberal views towards people who are transgender, these views have declined across all demographic groups.