We’re quite nice really

Observations on British attitudes

It's good, once a year, to have our prejudices confounded. Who'd have thought, for example, that two-thirds of young public-sector employees (the carelessly cruel bureaucrats of so many news stories and TV soaps) are motivated by the belief that their job is useful? Or that eight in ten of us now accept that car use has a serious effect on climate? The annual British Social Attitudes report not only surprises, it also cheers, revealing that, over time, we are becoming more tolerant (in 1987 three-quarters of us thought that homosexuality was wrong; that's now down to a third). Here's a glimpse of how we think in 2008:

90% think that donor insemination should be allowed for an infertile couple

76% think the gap between high and low incomes is too wide

70% think there is nothing wrong with sex before marriage

68% of women say they usually or always do the cleaning

54% think that unemployment benefits are too high

50% read a morning newspaper three times or more a week

45% are willing and able to reduce their car use

32% think that homosexuality is wrong

23% have boycotted goods for ethical reasons

27% believe that poverty is due to laziness

36% think that equal opportunity measures have gone too far

"British Social Attitudes: the 24th Report" 2007/2008 is published by Sage for the National Centre for Social Research (£50)

This article first appeared in the 28 January 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Merchant adventurer