Britain is now one of the world’s most socially liberal countries
But a socially conservative minority remains substantial
The UK ranks among the world’s most socially liberal countries, new data shows, yet large swathes of the public remain socially conservative. A study from the Policy Institute at King’s College London measured 24 countries and their respective attitudes to issues like homosexuality, casual sex, divorce, abortion and euthanasia, asking respondents whether each was ‘justifiable’.
Two-thirds of British people think homosexuality is justifiable (65%), which places the country behind only Sweden, Norway and Germany, marking an increase from 12% acceptance in 1981, when the survey began. Yet it is striking that 34% still oppose same-sex practices entirely. Similarly, nearly a quarter (23%) of UK respondents disagreed with the statement “homosexual couples are as good parents as other couples”.
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When it comes to acceptance of casual sex, the UK ranks fourth globally, yet only 42% of Britons think it is justifiable, up from 10% in 1999. Meanwhile, a minority of UK residents (48%) believe that abortion and euthanasia are acceptable, with only 64% thinking the same about divorce. It is striking that, even with these numbers, Britain is still more liberal than most of Europe and the United States. Indeed, just 38% of Americans say divorce can be justified, and only 24% say the same about abortion.
A smaller number — 17% — of Britons support prostitution, while there is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a generational divide in terms of attitudes to sex. The Policy Institute finds that while 67% of members of Generation Z (comprising those born in 1997 and after) think casual sex is justifiable, this figure is 30% for Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964). This goes some way to countering the widely-held belief that today’s young people are more prudish than their forebears (55% of millennials agree), yet is hardly indicative of a libertine takeover.
The UK is noticeably more authoritarian on capital punishment than on other social issues, according to the study. One in five UK respondents thinks it is justifiable — more than twice as many as each of Greece, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Norway — even if this figure has fallen from 32% in 2009. Considering that 35% of the UK think that the death penalty is potentially justifiable, that means that a majority — 56% — of Britons support the use of execution in some circumstances. The UK is, in light of this, less liberal in terms of public approval of the death penalty than Russia and the Philippines.
While the UK as a whole ranks among Europe’s more liberal countries, the Home Nations are not uniform in this respect. Northern Ireland is significantly more conservative than the other constituent parts, with 49% acceptance of homosexuality, 48% acceptance of divorce and 25% acceptance of abortion.
Across a range of social issues, the UK has moved substantially in the last few decades, making it far more liberal than the majority of its international peers. Yet this data suggests that there are still substantial sections of the population that are more conservative than we might think.
It would be interesting to see on what basis 77% of respondents agreed with, or expressed no opinion on, the statement that “homosexual couples are as good parents as other couples”. Given that same sex couples have a higher breakup rate, can never both be the child’s biological parents, and lack the gender balance of heterosexual couples, on the face of it that statement is unlikely to be generally true, however pleasing it would be to think otherwise.
Possibly because they have never met any homosexual parents. (I’m not saying btw that they are worse parents just thinking why people respond as they do. As it happens, I only know one set of homosexual parents (women) and they split up when their kids were young).
That’s a good point MM. People do tend to respond differently when asked a question in the aggregate to how they might handle the issue with friend/family. It’s often the same with Ethnicity or Race. Familiarity changes perception.
On the Gay couples/parenting issue – one fact is they don’t become parents by accident, unlike some Hetero couples. Thus a more explicit decision probably means a bit more thought doesn’t it?. The difficulty of course is we are all a bit subject to anecdote on this. I’m not aware of any longitudinal studies that have reported, but probably only a matter of time.
Whatever is shown by longitudinal studies, we as a society made the choice to permit same sex parents without that information, it was an act of faith not science.
Well, perhaps… but how many laws have a scientific basis? And furthermore, where would the data come from, unless society allowed same sex parents in the first place?
They’re regurgitating what is considered the acceptable view of their class.
It would be interesting to know how children of same sex marriages turn out compared to children of heterosexual marriages. I feel that a child that is loved by anyone is better than no love at all.
The break-up rate for gay couples who have children is relevant not the general break-up rate, which in my experience is considerably less. They can never be the child’s biological parents, but neither can Step-Parents, a potentially much worse scenario for children. Gay couples will often have close friends of the opposite sex – in fact very close friends (some of whom are donors) and who would consider it a privilege to ensure that there is a gender balance.
That explains the breakdown in law and order, declining birth rates and generally nothing working as it should. This is progress! (apparently)
I’m puzzled by choice of word justifiable in these questions. I’d probably end up selecting don’t know!
Does seem odd, I would have thought ‘acceptable’ might prompt an easier response.
I’d wager if “don’t care” was an option that would have come top in most sections. Brits tend to let people do as they please as long as it doesn’t intrude on anybody else
Exactly – as long as the horses are safe.
The Brits do not care who gets F_ed up – as long as it is not them.
Kill all the babies you want, groom all the children, sexually abuse them, give them steroid blockers, and mutilate their genitalia – not a problem.
Let people steal cars, burgle, cause social disorder till the whole community is miserable – Fine – and to show that give the criminals free housing, free legal defense, pocket money, phones – and a license to rob and beat…
Knife crime? Oh, well….can’t do anything about it – they are juveniles……
Empty the jails and mental hospitals, wait 4 hours for an ambulance because someone uses it as a free taxi
Put the criminals who break in the country ahead of locals – hotels, spending money, health care, school – and free crime….
Billy Bob – I do not know whan you were back in UK – but my old parts of London – you do not walk around at night.
My exact thought and stopped reading to make sure that I understood the word correctly!
I did and so the whole sorry article is now moot.
adjective: Having sufficient grounds for justification; possible to justify.
Capable of being justified, or shown to be just.
That can be justified.
If most of the questions were “just”, we have already slipped too far down the ladder.
Not judging is as far as I can really go. Live and let live, but don’t make me feel as if I have to accept everything the “progressives” want me too.
Yes it is a bit odd – as it is trying to remove any nuance whatsoever, to questions that do have varying degrees of nuance.
I’m not sure that I pay much attention to such surveys. They are designed to boost the self – regard of those middle class liberals that concoct them: A self-regard that I suspect is beginning to fray at the edges. As I said on an earlier article about people’s atitudes, there is only one question being asked. – Are you virutous?- Are you the sort of person that I would invite to one of my dinner parties? – Would I let you use my “restroom”?
On the basis oo my responses to this survey, I would appear modern and liberal, but I assure you that I am not. I would be about as sincere in my responses as Vicki Pollard would have been. “Do you think it important to respect other people’s choice of personal pronouns” “Yeah, Wotever”, but what I am really saying is that I have so little regard for you, and for the pronoun people, that I can’t be bothered to give you a frank answer.
See Sir Humphrey Appelby on the value of surveys. For those unfamilar with Yes Minister, it wasn’t just the finest comedy on politics, it was also the finest documentary.
PS: Great girl, Vicki. A survivor.
PPS: If you want to know what people really think, you have to dig a lot deeper.
You watch Yes, Minister? Do I neeed to contact Prevent?
There I was, being all serious!
All this really shows is the extent to which Western societies are being undermined by corrupt elites.
On many issues I seem to be socially conservative. Good!
Whenever I see something like this I wonder how they constructed the sample and to what extent it was truly random.
I looked at their website and it is by no means clear that they have selected a random sample. I suspect, but can’t prove, that the socially conservative are under-represented in their sample.
For instance, those who refuse to co-operate with surveys are by their nature not going to be represented. What social views might that group hold, I wonder?
From the comments (so far) it would appear that, as I have suspected, the subscribers on this site are more conservative/right-wing than the general population of the UK. It was a similar reaction to the poll on climate change from yesterday. It is often the call on this site that politicians should listen to what the people want, but I wonder if such people would really want that, given how much they seem to be out of alignment with public opinion. On some things I think there would be agreement e.g. identity politics, but generally this site seems to be home to outliers, who, of course, may not be wrong.
Valid observations. I’d go further and suggest rather than outliers however, there are many with extremist views that are rigidly biased. And indeed wrong. It’s a peculiarity given the core values of the site.
Ah! Conjugation time!
I am right.
You are wrong.
He is an extremist.
and ” biased”!
How can views be wrong? Childish! “It’s my opinion so I’m right.”
A quick trawl through the comments on many of the articles will provide the answer to that. In response to Linda’s observations, it’s unfortunate, but there is a large section of the audience here that could do with some unherding from extreme right wing views that prompt the same responses on some subjects in a Pavlovian manner. Sadly, it shuts down interesting discussion.
Definition of extreme “right wing”? Something you don’t agree with. Like the illustrious mayor of London yesterday.
Linda, the problem with using “ight wing” and “left wing” is that these terms have lost any real meaning: They are just insults to throw at people. People simply do not readily fit into these categories. An obvious example is the old private secor working class: Economically left wing, socially highly conservative. ( I should know, I was born into such a community) I wonder what you call them/us/me. Illiberal collectivists perhaps, or pre-Blairite Labour.
Nazi = National SOCIALIST…. a hint of a clue there?
I used to go fishing on the river Lee canal as a boy, Nicky, so I know how to bait a hook.
I caught better fish than you.
The difference on this site is that people think and are literate enough to explain their views. That is the single point of UnHerd.
There’s also an argument that people who’re able to think with a degree of independence can find themselves labelled “right-wing” simply because they don’t follow a mainstream point of view.
Perhaps. Many however are merely stuck with their engrained biases that are reinforced on right wing sites that just act as an echo chamber. TCW comes to mind.
Curious to see where you spend your time.
I don’t spend any time there, I assure you. Vile place.
Nothing to excess. Plenty of it there.
I was simply asking you to look into the mirror.
Or being accused of being “woke” because one is liberal, in the dictionary definition of the word -classical liberalism. Sadly,these words have become meaningless.
Perhaps another poll which confuses what people profess socially and how they behave individually. So only 42% think casual sex is justifiable, but I suspect that a rather greater proportion of people in a long term relationship engage in sex outside marriage. It’s a matter of definitions (again).
Another confusion laid bare is the definition of ‘liberal’. From Wikipedia:
Classical liberalism is a political tradition and a branch of liberalism that advocates free market and laissez-faire economics; civil liberties under the rule of law with especial emphasis on individual autonomy, limited government, economic freedom, political freedom and freedom of speech.
You can make a good argument that ‘classic liberalism’ would generate the sort of answers that the poll ‘uncovers’ yet it is more socially conservative (small ‘c’) than the current crop of ‘social liberals’.
What a shame that no significant political party embraces Classical Liberalism in this country.
I wonder why these “liberal” attitudes seem to have all accelerated in around 2009? Did anything happen around then which might have escaped my notice?
Those results don’t seem that surprising to me. There has always been a strong streak of “mind your own business” in Britain and a lot of those attitudes seems to reflect that it seems to me. However, there is also a sense that if the law is broken you should get punished, which fits with the soft support for capital punishment for certain offenses.
What struck me is how Russia compares with the UK on these issues. With that kind of divide over what are essentially theological questions, it’s hard to say this current Russia vs NATO war (and that’s what it actually is) doesn’t have a significant religious dimension.
Secular liberalism appears to be on a religious crusade. And this is nothing new. Commodore Perry in Tokyo Bay was articulating quintessential liberal theology: “if we can’t get access to your markets, we’ll blow them to bits”.
Weird the spike goes up from 2008. That’s when I turned 18. We certainly had a good time.
Do you think from 2008 crash really we knew we blew it but couldn’t admit it and we’ve been on borrowed money ever since…… Last party before reality slaps us in the face….
I am partly joking.
It is spinning out of control – in 20 years people will be fighting for a place in the soup line.
Is it cockroach or mealworm soup today?
At risk of committing the nu britn capital and undefined crime of ” racism”, this ” survey” conveniently omits to give any guide to what the muslim/ African/Caribbean citizens think? Oooh perish the thought…..
What makes you think they weren’t asked?
I suspect that in the past ordinary people didn’t really have opinions on these things because they were too busy just getting on with life. A combination of the short working hours today and the fact that everybody is on the internet means that for 60+ million people there are 60+ million opinions.
In the past, people would have taken their opinions from local peer groups, especially the church or chapel. Now they follow what they see on MSN, not realising that this is biased (to say the least).
If everyone has an opinion, nothing can be done. You have to listen patiently to numerous groups who stand for their own limited views. Take any divisive issue: nuclear energy, transes, boats of refugees, vaccinations …. We are swamped by people who know absolutely what is right, but of course they are probably just as wrong as everybody else.
Hence the tendency to look back lovingly to a (slightly) more authoritative government which ploughed through the cr*p. But, shudder, not too authoritative like China and Russia. Definition of too authoritative: ‘Those you don’t personally like because they might even ignore your views, heaven forbid’
Does the people who have too much time on they’re hands include you?
Yes, and you obviously.
We tend to just follow the US in this ‘great awokening’ social revolution, and what strikes me here is that after all this time only 24% of Americans actually believe abortion is OK. And only 44% think that about homosexuality. Whatever you want to call the US political system, it’s clearly not a democracy.
Exactly and I live there. It’s a “god fearing” country and that’s a big problem. Most things are accepted as long as one believes in god. I find it sickening.
Try Europe where our fears may be related to a different god.
Kill the babies protect the psychopathic killers, Haha – Europe is so sick…..
Europe is toast – it is just a pit of degeneracy, loves the bad, hates the good….Good luck with all that in the coming depression.
Well thanks then. America is the imperial hegemon, I blame you nutters.
Would be interesting to see the correlation with religion. That could explain the rejection of homosexuality and abortion, particularly in the US.
The truly religious would not accept any, otherwise they would be paying lip-service to their respective religions – I would think.
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