By Rory Reynolds
TWO-thirds of children in parts of Scotland will be born to unmarried mothers within the next parliamentary session, according to new official statistics.
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics showed that births outside of wedlock are the norm in many areas north of the border.
West Dunbartonshire topped the list for Scotland at 63.5 per cent, while Dundee followed closely with 63 per cent.
The new figures have revealed a dramatic rise in the proportion of births by unmarried mothers UK-wide, which had risen from 36.7 per cent to 45 per cent by 2008, the latest year for which data is available.
Around 30 per cent were born to unmarried mothers living with a partner, while 15 per cent were single mothers.
The Conservatives have blamed the increase of births outside of marriage to a deterioration of values under the Labour government, while one Labour MSP said more focus needs to be on services for mothers and their children.
Ann Widdecombe, former Home Office minister, said: “It’s tremendously worrying. I think marriage has become devalued, as people don’t respect their wedding vows and therefore others don’t see the point of it.
“Children do much better at growing up against the background of two parents who are married and stably so.”
As well as being broken down by area, the figures also showed that in Scotland half of all births in 2008 were outside of marriage.
In contrast, London was the region with the lowest proportion of children born to unmarried mothers, with 36 per cent in 2008.
The results are explain by greater affluence in the UK capital, as well as the fact that it is home to a large Asian population, among which marriage levels are high.
Other areas with a high proportion of unmarried mothers were in North Ayrshire, where 62.1 per cent of children were born out of wedlock, and Inverclyde, where the figure was 59.7 per cent.
The areas where the figures were lowest included East Renfrewshire, with 31 per cent, Aberdeenshire, with 36 per cent, and Stirling, with 40 per cent.
Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at Kent University said: “Marriage is closely linked to class.
“Being married is a marker for lower middle-class and middle-class behaviour.
“But for people who are relatively economically marginalised, marriage is not really seen as something that you associate with bringing children into the world.”
He added that regional disparities were linked to class and social deprivation, rather than any north-south divide.
Despite the high figures in Scotland, several areas in England were significantly higher, with Knowsley in Merseyside topping the national figures.
The proportion of children born to unmarried mothers is expected to reach 75 per cent by 2014, while Hartlepool, near Middlesburgh, reached 68 per cent.
Des McNulty, Labour MSP for Clydebank and Milngavie, which takes in part of West Dunbartonshire, said: “It’s not really for me to say whether people should be married or not, but I think what’s important is that children, whether they are born inside marriage or outside of it, are properly cared for.
“When you look at the high levels of poverty and deprivation in this area it is really something that the government should be focusing on to protect services for mothers and children.”
However, with more couples living together unmarried and having children, there is not necessarily any disadvantage.
The novelist Susan Elderkin, 41, lives with her neuroscientist partner Ash Ranpura, 34, and 15-month old son Kirin in London.
She said: “We are happy and we are there for him. It doesn’t make any difference whether you are married or not, as far as I’m concerned.