Half of Scottish children are now born to unmarried parents and family charities are warning of the wider consequences for society.
Action for Children Scotland is behind a new report that says 50.1 per cent of live births in Scotland were to unmarried parents in 2008.
The figure has increased by twelve per cent in ten years and is the first time that the number of children born out of wedlock exceeds those born to married parents.
The report, entitled Factfile, said it anticipates one in three children will witness the break up of their parents’ relationship before they reach the age of 16.
Norman Wells, of the Family Education Trust, said: “Children living with their own married parents have fewer emotional and behavioural problems. They are also less likely to smoke, drink and take drugs, be sexually active or engage in crime.
“Marriage and childbearing belong together and as a society we are set to pay a high price for imagining that we can separate them.”
He commented: “These figures provide further evidence of a disturbing trend to separate childbearing from marriage.”
The report pulls together statistics from both Government and charity sources.
Louise Warde Hunter, Strategic Director for Action for Children in Scotland, said: “It is clear from our Factfile report that problems within families are leaving far too many children isolated, troubled and alone.
“We need to reach these children and help to strengthen their families to break the cycle of neglect that can persist across generations.
“Our work across Scotland has shown that providing the right support for the most vulnerable families can change lives.
“Strengthening families to help themselves is the best answer for the future.”
Conservative Party spokesman for children Liz Smith said: “This flags up a worrying trend – the traditional family unit is under considerable threat.
“Educationalists and sociologists tell us the children who are the best performers are the ones from secure family backgrounds.
“Many lone parents and step-parents do a fantastic job but the fact that there is a trend away from the traditional family is a major threat within society.”
In 2008 a report showed how British children were suffering as a result of being born into unmarried homes.
The report, compiled by researchers at the University of Essex, said that 44 per cent of babies in Britain are born to unmarried parents. Cohabitees were estimated to make up three-quarters of those parents.
But the researchers noted that since these unmarried unions are far more likely to break up, an increasing number of children are living in single parent families.
They said that children brought up by lone parents do worse at school, are less likely to get good jobs and suffer more health problems.
John Ermisch, Professor of Economics at the University of Essex, said at the time: “The rise in births outside marriage is a real cause for concern.”
Another report in 2008 showed children are increasingly suffering from mental ill health with family breakdown being cited as a major cause.
In the report, from the Good Childhood Inquiry, family relationships were identified as being central to children’s well-being, with one author commenting that it’s not just the event of family breakdown itself but the life that has to be lived afterwards that causes harm.
The report was based on the responses of thousands of children to the study which was commissioned by The Children’s Society in 2006.
It found that one in four under-16s regularly feel depressed, with peer pressure and worries about physical appearance also listed as causes.