How British moral attitudes have changed in the last 30 years
From a report by the Policy Institute at King’s College London
This analysis by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, based on polling by Ipsos MORI, reveals how the British public’s views on moral issues have become increasingly liberal over the last 30 years, with society today far more tolerant of illegal drug use, homosexuality, abortion, depictions of violence and many aspects of sex in popular culture, and many other issues and activities.
However, views on some behaviours haven’t changed or have even hardened, including on extramarital affairs and rejection of capital punishment.
The public are now hugely more tolerant of homosexuality - only 1 in 8 people think it is morally wrong. Compared with 30 years ago, 4 in 10 people thought it was immoral. Back then, men were significantly more likely than women to think being gay was morally wrong, but this gender gap in opinion has now been virtually eliminated.
Attitudes towards infidelity remain virtually unchanged from 30 years ago, with 55% now saying it is immoral, compared with 52% in 1989. Men have become slightly less accepting of unfaithfulness, now in line with women’s views.
13% today think it is morally wrong to have a child with someone you’re not married to, down from 24% in 1989.
Just 7% think it is immoral for couples who are not married to live together, down from 13% in 1989. Moral disapproval of divorce has declined along similar lines.
Women in particular have become far less likely to disapprove of soft porn magazines in shops, with the proportion who see them as morally wrong almost halving, from 46% to 25%.
A similar downward trend can be seen in moral disapproval of full frontal male nudity on TV, with the biggest declines among older age groups, falling from 60% in 1989 to 29% today.
There has been virtually no change in views on pornography in the cinema. 53% of women and 39% of men today think it is immoral, compared with 54% and 43% respectively in 1989.
The public today are much more accepting of illegal drug use than they were in 1989. The proportion who think soft drug use is morally wrong has halved to 29%, while moral disapproval of hard drug use has also declined significantly – although two-thirds still think this is immoral.
Capital punishment is the only issue in the survey that saw a significant increase in moral disapproval, from 22% to 37%, while there has been a slight decline in the proportion who see euthanasia as immoral, 22% to 17%.
The proportion of the public who think abortion is immoral has halved in the last 30 years, from 35% to 18%. And as in 1989, today there is little difference in opinion between men and women.
Moral disapproval of TV violence is down significantly from 53% to 32%.
The proportion of the public who believe that politicians are good people has more than halved in the last 30 years. Half the population now disagree that they are good people.
Read the full report here.
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