One in four mothers is now a single parent, having made a 'lifestyle choice' to rely on benefits rather than a partner, a report revealed yesterday.
More than half of mothers with children under 13 have never married or lived with a boyfriend and find it 'rewarding' to stay at home supported by state handouts, it said.
The British Social Attitudes survey also found that most single mothers preferred to live without a man because so many are too feckless to support them.
Researchers called for more efforts to encourage young men to take jobs so that more young mothers will choose living with a reliable breadwinner over a life on benefits.
They called for a move away from current policies which have focused on state handouts and getting single mothers into work - rather than the men who can support them.
Researcher Geoff Dench, a fellow of the Young Foundation research group, said: 'The existence of state benefits as a source of economic security seems to be encouraging young mothers not to bother with male resident partners.'
He added: 'Current policies structured around helping single mothers to become self-sufficient workers are misconceived.
'What most lone mothers need and many want, and may be waiting for, is a reliable partner-breadwinner, to settle down with. It would therefore make a lot more sense for policy to concentrate on dealing with male worklessness, in order to make men marriageable again.'
He added that the proportion of lone mothers had risen from 10 per cent to 25 per cent in the past 20 years.
The report said there is growing evidence that 'lone motherhood is less a result of relationship breakdown, more a lifestyle choice'.
The findings run counter to the claim, regularly made by pressure groups for single parents, that women most often become lone mothers because of divorce or separation.
They also suggest that 12 years of hugely expensive efforts by Labour to persuade mothers to take jobs in the name of cutting poverty have been wasted.
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The analysis was based on findings from British Social Attitudes, the annual Government-backed survey of opinions and lifestyles that has been run every year since the early 1980s.
It shows that in the 1980s it was trued that a typical single mother had broken up with a partner after years of marriage or cohabitation. In 1986 only 15 per cent of single mothers of children under 13 said they had never married or lived with a partner.
But by 2006, 57 per cent of single mothers had never lived as part of a couple.
The research also showed that more and more single mothers want to stay at home with their children rather than go out to work. In 1990, only 38 per cent thought that 'being a housewife is rewarding'.
The share who liked being a housewife was up to 50 per cent by 2006.
Around a quarter of all children grow up with a single parent, and a high proportion live below the Government's poverty line. Children of single parents are more likely to do badly at school, suffer poor health, and fall into trouble and unemployment as they grow up than others.
Labour has relentlessly pushed for mothers to go out to work on the grounds that children's difficulties are caused by poverty rather than any problems connected to growing up with just one parent. Almost £20billion a year is spent on tax credits designed to help working single mothers.
Even health visitors are now instructed to encourage new mothers to get back into jobs.
But six out of ten single mothers of children under five and a third of those with primary school age children still do not work.
At the same time, more than three million men are classed as 'economically inactive', and live on sickness benefits, state handouts or in the black economy.
Mr Dench said in a report for the centre-right think tank Centre for Policy Studies that 'single mothers seem to be in favour of marriage in principle'.
Nearly a third, 31 per cent, said marriage is the best kind of relationship and 22 per cent have no view either way.
Click to view image: 'single mothers'
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