UK "more tolerant" than most European countries

09:34, January 27, 2010      

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Britons have more liberal attitudes toward cohabitation and divorce than many of their European neighbors, though when it comes to cannabis they have become less permissive, an annual survey showed on Tuesday.

The countries that disapproved most of non-traditional family arrangements were former Communist ones with a strong Christian influence, while attitudes were most liberal in Scandinavia, the British Social Attitudes survey said.

In Britain, 14 percent disapproved of unmarried couples living together, compared with 3 percent in Sweden and 34 percent in Poland.

Couples who chose not to have children were most likely to be chided in Slovakia, where 53 percent of the population disapproved, compared with 6 percent in Denmark and 8 percent in Britain.

Divorce, if the couple had a child under 12, was most frowned upon in Poland at 49 percent, compared with 27 percent in Britain and 14 percent in Denmark.

Working mothers, with a child aged three or under, were regarded most harshly in the Netherlands, 51 percent, compared with Cyprus at 14 percent and 38 percent in Britain.

The figures were higher for working mothers than fathers.

"In most European countries, including Britain, we are unlikely to hear a chorus of disapproval if people behave in ways that go against traditional norms," co-author Eric Harrison said in a statement.

"The exception in Britain concerns mothers working full-time while their children are young. This issue may be one area where social attitudes do not get any more liberal -- or it may be the next stage of social liberalization waiting to happen."

Britons became more conservative when the issue of cannabis was raised, with 58 percent saying it should be made illegal, a rise of 12 percent on 2001.

The British government, perhaps reflecting this hardened stance, raised cannabis' legal status in 2008, saying it wanted to send a strong message that the use of the drug was unacceptable.

The government's chief drug adviser Professor David Nutt was later sacked after accusing Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government of ignoring scientific advice that suggested cannabis was less harmful than alcohol, and that ministers had misled the public about its dangers for purely political reasons.

Source: China Daily/Agencies
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