The demise of the traditional family set-up is continuing despite growing evidence that children suffer when they are not raised by a married mother and father.
Data published by the Office for National Statistics show that in 2007, 44.4 per cent of live births were outside marriage.
The proportion is the highest on record, up from 43.7 per cent the previous year, and has risen from just 9 per cent in 1976, when illegitimacy was taboo.
It is set to rise still further as early figures for 2008 show a record 93,000 babies were born to unmarried women the third quarter of the year.
Among British-born mothers the proportion of babies born out of wedlock is likely to be above the landmark 50 per cent already, as immigrants are more likely to have children within marriage.
The marriage rate in England and Wales is now the lowest since it was first calculated in 1862, as the population increases but the number of people getting married falls.
There were just 231,450 weddings in 2007, two-thirds of which were civil ceremonies. Just 55,890 were held by Church of England priests.
Critics say the declining popularity of marriage and the rising numbers of unmarried parents are partly the fault of Labour, which insists all types of relationships are equally valid and has removed financial incentives for couples to stay together.
A recent academic study claimed that the Government’s benefits reforms have encouraged family breakdowns, since they meant women who left their husbands were better off financially after leaving their husbands because they could claim higher welfare payments and better child care. The introduction of the Working Families Tax Credit in 1999 had a “substantial impact” on the divorce rate among the poorest households, prompting a 160 per cent rise in separations, the report published in the Economic Journal claimed.