The benefits of breastfeeding are widely known - it improves cognitive development among children and reduces a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer or cardiovascular disease Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

London: More than half of single mothers have never lived with a husband or boyfriend because they make the lifestyle choice to stay on their own, a study has revealed.

Fresh figures show that 57 per cent choose the single life as they say it is more rewarding.

The findings mark a significant increase on 20 years ago, when just 15 per cent of single mothers of children under 13 said they had never lived with a partner.

Critics said the results showed the need to boost employment among young men so more mothers choose living with a reliable breadwinner over a life on benefits.

And they say the figures revealed the failure of Labour's policies focusing on state handouts and getting mothers into work - rather than the men who can support them.

The analysis was based on the Government-backed British Social Attitudes survey of lifestyles.

It shows that in the 1980s the majority of single mothers had broken up with a partner after years of marriage or cohabitation. But by 2006, 57 per cent had never lived as part of a couple.

The research also revealed that single mothers increasingly chose to stay at home with their children rather than go out to work.

In 1990, only 38 per cent thought "being a housewife is rewarding". This had risen to 50 per cent by 2006.

Researcher Geoff Dench, of the Young Foundation social action 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.

"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."

He said policy should concentrate on tackling unemployment among young men to make them "marriageable again".

The proportion of mothers who bring up their child alone has risen from 10 per cent to 25 per cent in the past 20 years.

At present, there is no tax incentive for mothers to marry the fathers of their children. A report into the findings for centre-right think-tank the Centre for Policy Studies said there is growing evidence that "lone motherhood is less a result of relationship breakdown, more a lifestyle choice".

The conclusion runs counter to claims, made by pressure groups for single parents, that women most often become lone mothers because of divorce or separation.

It also suggests that 12 years of hugely expensive efforts by Labour to tackle poverty by persuading mothers to take jobs have been wasted.

Around a quarter of all children grow up with a single parent, and a high proportion live below the Government's poverty line.