THE proportion of children born outside marriage is at an all-time high, but divorces have hit a 30-year low, according to new figures from the Registrar General for Scotland.
However, experts believe the decline in the divorce rate is partly because couples can no longer afford to separate in the current economic climate.
Meanwhile, those who do split up risk being pushed into poverty by welfare reforms, single parent groups have warned.
The Registrar General for Scotland’s report for 2011 revealed that deaths fell to their lowest level since records began more than 150 years ago.
This was helped by a reduction in fatal heart attacks and strokes.
However, academics warn that Scotland retains its sick man of western Europe tag and is failing to close the gap on the rest of the UK, or the majority of countries with similar GDP.
There was also a natural increase in the Scottish population, despite births falling for the third consecutive year.
George MacKenzie, who took over as Registrar General in August last year, said: “There were more births than deaths in Scotland in 2011, 58,000 against 53,000.
“This is the sixth year in a row we have recorded a natural increase in the population. However, there was a slight fall in the number of births, a trend we have now seen for three years.
“The preliminary number of divorces reported to us has again fallen slightly, this time to 9,814, though the final figure may be a little higher once we get all the late returns.
“The decline is not unexpected. We have seen a drop in the number of divorces each year since a peak in 2006 when the Family Law (Scotland) Act reduced separation periods.
“There were increases in the numbers of stillbirths, infant deaths, adoptions, marriages, civil partnerships formed and civil partnerships dissolved.”
Since 2008, more children have been born outside of marriage than within, and last year the percentage hit 51, with 29,888 births outside wedlock.
The number of marriages rose to 29,135, its highest level in four years, although still low compared to a generation ago.
Meanwhile, there were 9,814 divorces, the lowest number in 30 years.
Relationships Scotland, a counselling and mediation service, said the figures are a nod to the increasing complexities and varieties of modern families.
A spokeswoman said: “There are now more people living together, having children, and then separating.
“An educated guess is that couples who are not married are separating just as much, at least, as married couples. And some people say they are two to three times more likely to do so, but that’s anecdotal.”
She said one of the biggest reason for break ups is financial problems brought on by the current economic climate.
“Couples are presenting with financial problems, or relationship problems caused by finances. It’s often the final straw in a relationship,” she said.
“Conversely, couples are often not separating because they can’t afford it.
“Couples stay under one roof because they can’t afford to run two houses. That’s become more apparent recently.”
However, even if some parents are forced to stay together for financial reasons, many are still separating, and finding it increasingly difficult to raise children on their own.
Marion Davis, policy manager at One Parent Families Scotland, said: “There’s an increasing number of one parent families in Scotland, which reflects the position across Europe and in America, and that trend will continue to increase.
“It’s very difficult for lone parent families at the moment. I was at a conference where Scottish Government figures showed lone parents are going to be the worst affected by welfare reform.
“Because the UK government has reduced help with child care, parents are going to have to pay more out of their income.
“As a result, they’re much more likely to fall into poverty. The image of a young, feckless single parent is wrong.
“They are much more likely to be ordinary working people, in their 30s or 40s, who have broken up with their partners.”
However, the Scottish Conservatives said it was important to encourage the positive role a family can play in a child’s upbringing.
Deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “What matters is the children. Many single parents do a fantastic job of bringing up children on their own, however, the benefits that a family can give to the wellbeing of a child should not be dismissed and indeed should be encouraged.
“It is not for government to dictate how people live, but we should all be concerned that every child is given an equal opportunity in life.”
The report found deaths fell by 300 last year to 53,661. This was partly down to a 6.6 per cent drop in heart disease, and a 3.5 per cent reduction in strokes.
Andy Carver, prevention and care adviser at British Heart Foundation (BHF) Scotland, said: “The drop in deaths from heart disease is to be welcomed and continues a trend we’ve been seeing for a few decades now.
“This is due to less exposure to risk factors, such as fewer people smoking, and as a result of improvements in treatment. But it’s important we’re not complacent and that we continue to address risk factors for heart disease.
Professor Robert Wright, an expert in economics at Strathclyde University, warned: “Life expectancy in Scotland is still below the rest of the UK and most of Europe.”