skip to main content
Americans Say Birth Control, Divorce Most 'Morally Acceptable'

Americans Say Birth Control, Divorce Most 'Morally Acceptable'

Story Highlights

  • 92% say birth control, 81% divorce are morally acceptable behaviors
  • 9% think extramarital affairs, 11% human cloning are morally acceptable
  • Abortion still most polarizing issue for liberals and conservatives

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' ratings of the morality of 19 behaviors are little changed since last year. Using birth control and getting divorced remain the most "morally acceptable" actions, and having extramarital affairs and cloning humans are seen as the most "morally wrong."

In addition to birth control (92%) and divorce (81%), solid majorities of Americans view eight other behaviors as morally acceptable. These include premarital sex, gay or lesbian relations, gambling, having a baby outside of marriage, stem cell research, buying and wearing clothing made of fur, doctor-assisted suicide, and the death penalty. Meanwhile, a slim majority of Americans (52%) think abortion is morally acceptable, marking the first time in Gallup's 22-year trend that more than half view it that way. Medical testing on animals is also viewed by 52% of U.S. adults as acceptable from a moral standpoint.

On the other end of the spectrum, along with extramarital affairs (9%) and cloning humans (11%), less than half of Americans think suicide, polygamy, pornography and cloning animals are acceptable morally. Public opinion is about evenly divided on sex between teenagers.


Gallup has tracked Americans' views of the morality of a range of social issues since 2001. The latest update, conducted May 2-22, includes 19 behaviors.

Over the past two decades, views of the morality of most of the behaviors tracked have become more permissive. Just as abortion is currently at its historical high point of moral acceptability, so too is divorce, having a baby outside of marriage, gambling, sex between an unmarried man and woman, sex between teenagers, birth control, and gay or lesbian relations. Though small minorities of U.S. adults think suicide (22%) and polygamy (23%) are morally acceptable, the percentages saying so are the highest since Gallup's first measure in 2001.

Notable exceptions to increased perceptions of moral acceptability include:

  • Since 2001, Americans have become less likely to say medical testing on animals and the death penalty are morally acceptable.
  • Views of extramarital affairs and cloning humans as morally acceptable have been consistently low over the years, and views of birth control have been steadily high.

Marked Gulf Between Liberals and Conservatives Persists for Most Issues

While Americans' views of the morality of behaviors have generally trended in a more liberal direction overall, personal political ideology continues to be a significant driver of opinions in this realm. There are significant gaps in liberals' and conservatives' perceptions of the morality of all issues except for human cloning and medical testing on animals.

  • The widest gulf between liberals and conservatives, 61 percentage points, is in views of the moral acceptability of abortion -- but gay or lesbian relations, sex between teenagers, and doctor-assisted suicide also have sizable gaps of 40 to 41 points.
  • Liberals are 30 to 36 points more likely than conservatives to think the following behaviors are morally acceptable: premarital sex, stem cell research, pornography and suicide.
  • Conservatives are more likely than liberals to say three behaviors are morally acceptable -- the death penalty (by 27 points), buying and wearing clothing made of fur (by 15 points), and medical testing on animals (by eight points).

Liberals' views of the moral acceptability of 10 behaviors are at their numerical high points -- birth control, premarital sex, gay or lesbian relations, abortion, having a baby outside of marriage, doctor-assisted suicide, teenage sex, pornography, polygamy and suicide.

Conservatives' perceptions of the moral acceptability of five issues are also at their highest points -- divorce, gambling, having a baby without being married, gay or lesbian relations, and sex between teenagers. Notably, the latest poll marks the first time that more than half of conservatives, 51%, say gay or lesbian relations are morally acceptable.

Bottom Line

Americans' views of the moral acceptability of a range of behaviors are relatively stable, with a slight shift to the left that has been the trend in recent years. In particular, abortion is considered to be morally acceptable by a slim majority for the first time since 2001 when tracking began. This shift comes after a draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked to the press. The ideological divide on most of the issues remains significant.

To stay up to date with the latest Gallup News insights and updates, follow us on Twitter.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030