Stephen Lewis casts a sceptical eye over the latest surveys that claim to tell us what we're like

As Mark Twain once said, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. So whenever a new survey comes out 'revealing' that 60 per cent of British men have sex more than eight times a week, nobody ever buys Y-fronts from Marks & Spencer and traffic wardens are the most popular people in Britain, the alarm bells should start ringing.

This week we have been bombarded with new 'research' on everything from our sexual habits to job satisfaction, divorce and the way we like to spend our time and money.

Some of this research is of very doubtful reliability. A new survey carried out in London, for example, 'reveals' that 40 per cent of people say they have had group sex - and more than one in three people claim to have popped into a public loo for a 'quickie'.

What, here? In Britain? You've got to be kidding. You only have to look at the source of this 'research' to realise it's probably not worth the paper it's written on. The survey was published in the London listings magazine Time Out, which quizzed 600 people about their sexual habits in the capital last month.

The problem with this is that a) everybody (especially men) likes to think they're a bit more of a lad than they are, b) who's going to know in the context of this survey if you're telling a bit of a porkie? and c) we all know that down in London they are all mouth and no trousers anyway. Not like up here.

One interesting thing about these type of surveys is that it's always the boring ones that are the most reliable. When meticulous research by the University of Warwick - based on interviews with 30,000 workers - reveals that over the last ten years job satisfaction has fallen and stress has risen, we think so what? We all knew that anyway.

To be fair, there are a couple of surprising findings in the Warwick research. Most Brits still say they enjoy work 'enormously', apparently - even if not as much as ten years before. (Were their bosses looking over their shoulder when they answered this question, I wonder?) And women are more likely to enjoy their job than men. Typical.

Another study - this time by women's magazine Bella, so you know this one's got to be cast-iron pukka - insists that bickering parents really should put an end to an unhappy marriage, if not for themselves then for the sake of the children.

The study of 1,000 people revealed that 64 per cent of those questioned believed divorce was better for the children than living in misery. Sadly, reports don't make clear how many of the 1,000 people questioned were children.

The most important of the many new surveys out this week is undoubtedly the latest British Social Attitudes survey.

Every year more than 3,000 people are interviewed by the National Centre for Social Research to find out how attitudes to everything from sex and politics to begging, the countryside and transport are changing.

The survey, it must be admitted, definitely falls into the reliable-but-not-particularly-interesting category because it is really only telling us what most of us instinctively feel anyway.

So, for example, most 18 to 24 year olds think there's nothing wrong with sex before marriage, while most over-65s think there is.

Younger people aged 18-26 couldn't really give a fig about politics, while older people care more. And - surprise, surprise - people over 65 think the Government should spend more on pensions whereas 18-24 year-olds don't.

Religion is on the way out, according to the survey, with fewer than three in ten people saying they 'belonged' to the Church of England, compared to four in ten 17 years ago - and the traditional view of women as dedicated 'housewives' tied to the kitchen sink is all but extinct.

Just one in six women and one in five men now think the woman should stay at home while the man goes out to work.

There are a couple of welcome surprises.

Scottish and Welsh devolution does not seem to have created a backlash of strident 'Englishness' - in fact, the most common reaction (among over half the English people asked) was indifference.

And while only half of council tenants accept estates are pleasant places to live, most would still much rather continue to rent from the council than from a private landlord.

But, in some respects, we remain an intolerant nation.

Nearly two thirds of people believe there is 'no excuse' for begging - and half say it is 'just an easy way to make a living'.

Obviously they have never found themselves down and out on the streets at Christmas.