14 October 2008

Essex researchers lead the way in Understanding Society

A group of Essex researchers are at the helm of the world’s largest and most ambitious longitudinal survey ever. Understanding Society, a £15.5 million project being led by the Institute for Social and Economic Research, ISER, at the University of Essex will look at the long term effects of social and economic change and become a flagship resource for researchers all around the world.

The survey will collect information annually from 100,000 individuals, across 40,000 households from across the UK. The large sample size will give a unique opportunity to explore issues for which other longitudinal surveys are too small to support effective research. It will permit analysis of small subgroups, such as teenage parents or disabled people.

Initial funding for the highly innovative project comes from the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). It represents the largest single investment in academic social research resources ever launched in the UK. Initial funding will carry the study though to 2012, however it is envisaged that the project will continue for decades to come.

Speaking at the launch of the new survey, Understanding Society Director, Professor Nick Buck, of ISER said: “We are very pleased to lead this exciting project which will provide high quality longitudinal data about the people of the UK, their lives, experiences, behaviours and beliefs, and will enable an unprecedented understanding of diversity within the population. It represents the latest stage in the UK’s uniquely successful tradition of longitudinal data and we aim to ensure it becomes a flagship resource for the research and user community in the UK – and beyond.”

For at least the last 50 years, social scientists have been capturing information to study these changes, in studies such as the British Household Panel Survey, and successive Governments have been using that information to inform policy decisions, such as the long term health implications of smoking and how poverty impacts on children.

Professor Ian Diamond, Chief Executive of the ESRC, said: “This is an exciting and important development that will increase our understanding of communities and society in general. The study will benefit policy researchers and policy makers in the UK, and researchers and research users in a wide range of academic and non-academic environments around the world.”

For further information please contact the University of Essex communications office on 01206 874377 or e-mail comms@essex.ac.uk.

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