New research from the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) has found that young people in Britain are more likely than older generations to describe a married person having an affair as “never acceptable”.

The survey from the NatCen Panel found that two thirds (66%) of people aged 18-34 describe extra-marital sexual relationships as never acceptable compared with less than half (46%) of people aged 55-64.

The research also highlights other differences in attitudes, including finding that that men and graduates are less likely to describe extra-marital sex as unacceptable.

A comparison with a similar question asked on NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey suggests that the young have not always been more conservative on this issue. In the 1980s those aged 18-34 were considerably less likely than other age groups to say that a person having sex someone other than their partner was “always wrong”. The shift in young people’s views appears to have happened gradually over the past 30 years.

“It is striking that young people are more likely than older age groups to say that extra-marital sex is never acceptable,” commented Kirby Swales, Survey Centre Director, National Centre for Social Research.

“There are a number of possible explanations for this, such as the changing demographic composition of young people, the emergence of ‘generation sensible’, or it could even be a product of growing up with peak divorce rates,” she said. “If this group carry these views into middle age, this could have important implications for our societal values on this and other moral issues.”

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