Do we need the family?

‘What’s a traditional family and do we need it?’

While ‘family values’ are a constant source of political appeal and rhetoric, the family itself has been changing fast. If we think of a traditional family as ‘married with children’ a smaller proportion of people live in such families today than in the past, with alternative models of kinship and relatedness becoming less remarkable.

The YouGov survey for this debate found that while nearly everyone agrees that a married couple with children is a family, significant numbers also consider less traditional relationships as familial too. Religious people differ little from the general population in their views, For example, 46% of Catholics, 51% of Baptists, and 48% of Jewish people consider a same-sex couple in a civil partnership without children to be a family, compared with 47% of the general population.

Most people agree that churches are welcoming to married couples with children, but only 45% think they are welcoming to divorced people, and a mere 21% that they are welcoming to gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Predictors of more strictly biological views of family are voting Conservative, being male and over 65, as well as being in the minority of religious believers who take their main authority from God or scripture and religious teachings.

People of faith appear to be more tolerant and welcoming to alternative families than the Churches to which they belong


“Do we need the traditional family? Quick answer: we can’t have it. It’s been swept away by social and economic change. And even what we see as being a traditional model for a married couple with children is a short-lived creation of the twentieth century.”

Ronald Hutton

“The traditional family, where the focus is on lifelong marriage vows, a definite decision to be a couple with a future and a parental commitment to each other and to any children who may come out of that relationship, is a structure which, although having its flaws, although it’s not always working, is something that we need.”

Andrew Goddard

“It’s very clear that most people still value family life, they want to do the right thing by each other, they want to put their children first, they’re looking for long-term relationships and they value commitment. But those commitments don’t always take the form of what we think of as a traditional family.”

Rosalind Edwards

Some media reaction

Most people in the UK think of the family as primarily a biological unit, according to research carried out for the Westminster Faith Debates.

The War Cry, 13 April 2013

Religious people take as broad a view of what constitutes a ‘family’ as the general population does, new research suggests. But only 21 per cent of those surveyed believe that churches are welcoming to gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

Church Times, 12 April 2013

Resources is an American resource on religion and the family.

Family Lives is a secular UK charity which believes in families as the foundation of society, and offers resources and non-judgemental support.

The Marriage Foundation undertakes research on marriage and family breakdown in society and seeks to enable people to develop the skills to form stronger relationships.

This event was held at QEIICC, Westminster, Wednesday 27 March 2013


  • Andrew Goddard

    Dr Andrew Goddard is Associate Director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics. He...

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  • Charles Clarke

    Charles was Labour Member of Parliament for Norwich South, which he remained until May 1997 –...

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  • Linda Woodhead

    Linda is Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University and Director of the Religion...

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  • Polly Toynbee

    Polly Toynbee is a columnist for The Guardian newspaper. In the 1990s she was the BBC’s Social...

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  • Ronald Hutton

    Ronald Hutton is Professor of History at Bristol University. He has published extensively on the...

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  • Rosalind Edwards

    Rosalind Edwards is Professor of Sociology at the University of Southampton. She has researched and...

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  • Intro by Linda Woodhead

  • Intro by Ronald Hutton

  • Intro by Polly Toynbee

  • Intro by Andrew Goddard

  • Intro by Rosalind Edwards

  • Traditional Family Part 1

  • Traditional Family Part 2


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