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Births outside wedlock at new high

More children in Britain are born outside marriage today than at any other point in the past 200 years, according to a new study.

The proportion of couples living together without tying the knot has also risen from less than 5% before 1945 to 90% now, research by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) think-tank found.

Historical documents show births outside marriage in England and Wales hovered around the 5% level from the 1750s, with spikes during the two world wars, before rising steadily from the 1960s onwards.

By the late 1970s the figure was more than 10%, rising to 30% by 1991 and reaching 45% today, according to the CSJ, which was founded by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

The report's authors, Professor Rebecca Probert of Warwick University and Dr Samantha Callan of the CSJ, argued that the facts do not bear out claims that rates of cohabitation outside marriage were high in the early 20th century.

They pointed to research suggesting that in the 1950s and 1960s only 1% to 3% of couples lived together before marriage.

The study also highlighted data showing that in the first half of the 20th century only a minority of women had sex with their husbands-to-be ahead of their wedding day.

Prof Probert and Dr Callan concluded in the report: "It is not our intention to suggest that all marriages in the past were happy and long-lasting, nor that there were no examples of successful and stable cohabiting relationships.

"But the quality of family life should be distinguished from its form.

"The fact that a number of marriages were brutal and fleeting should not obscure the centrality of marriage to family life in previous decades."

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