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Father Flintoff a sign of the times

London, Sept. 7: The fiancee of Andrew Flintoff, the golden boy of English cricket, has given birth to a baby girl, it was announced today.

While his colleagues struggled against India at Lord’s on Sunday, “Big Freddie”, as the 26-year-old is called, was by the bedside of his girlfriend, Rachel Woods, at the Royal London Hospital.

Although the baby, later named Holly, was born four weeks prematurely, she still weighed a healthy 2.815 kg.

It has now become so common for couples, especially high-profile celebrities from showbiz, media and sports, to have children without getting married that no one even bothers to mention that births outside wedlock are almost the norm.

Muslims and Hindus remain pretty traditional, though, in their approach to having children within marriage. No figures are available but it appears that, though Indian girls are ready to have relationships with men, they are generally unwilling to cohabit with them.

Things are changing in the rest of English society. As the case of Flintoff demonstrates, no moral judgements are made when the England star announces that he and his girlfriend have had a baby.

Following the birth just before 4 am yesterday, Flintoff’s first action was to ring his friend and England teammate, Stephen Harmison. “He rang me at 4.53 am,” said Harmison, the number one pace bowler in the England side. “I am really happy for him — although I wasn’t at the time! My phone was lighting up, and I thought it was my alarm. I answered it, and he said, ‘I’m a Dad!’ ”

Newspaper reports of India’s narrow victory on Sunday suggested the result might have been different had Flintoff been around. In the last game at the Oval, he hammered India for 99 runs in 93 balls.

It is not only in cricket that Flintoff has become such an influential icon.

On the question of marriage, official figures released by the Office of National Statistics last year showed 40.6 per cent of babies in England and Wales were born to parents who were not married compared with 31.2 per cent in 1992 and 14.4 per cent in 1982.

Melissa Dear, of the Family Planning Association, said: “Women have a lot more alternatives today — we’re not so defined by our marital status. The number of babies born outside marriage reflects a wider trend in our society towards cohabitation.”

However, there is evidence to show that marriage makes for greater stability. Research has shown that 92 per cent of British couples who married before having a first child were together five years later. In contrast, only 48 per cent of British couples who were cohabiting when they had a first child were still together five years later.

Kathleen Kiernan, of the London School of Economics, argued: “It is not necessarily the fact of marriage that makes people stay together. It may be that the people who decide to marry are very different from the ones who cohabit. Those who marry are likely to be more committed, while the cohabitees are less committed.”

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