New funding for landmark society study

  • Date

    Wed 6 May 20

Woman sitting with a baby on her lap and a toddler next to her looking at an iPad

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has announced new support for Understanding Society, allowing researchers to continue capturing data about life in the UK up to the end of 2025.

The latest award supports Waves 13 to 15 of the main Study, plus three new waves for the Innovation Panel – Understanding Society’s test area for new methodological developments.

Understanding Society is the largest longitudinal household panel study of its kind and provides vital evidence on life changes and stability.

The new funding is a significant investment by the ESRC and UK Research and Innovation in longitudinal data collection in the UK.

As well as continuing the main Study, the new funding will allow Understanding Society to develop new initiatives:

  • New households will be recruited into the Study at Wave 13 through a new ‘boost sample’. Although Study participants remain committed to taking part in Understanding Society and drop-out rates for the Study are lower than many other longitudinal studies, adding new households helps maintain the large sample size and allows the Study to increase numbers of under-represented households.
  • A new emigrant survey will be released that follows people when they leave the UK. This addition to the Study will help researchers understand emigrants’ experiences outside the UK, what ties they maintain with family and friends and how they integrate into the new communities that they join.
  • Event triggered data collection – researchers will check in with participants by text monthly to see if any key life events have occurred. If some have, participants will be asked follow-up questions to obtain more timely data about changes in people’s lives.
  • Bringing more people into the Study if they are associated with a core household. For example, people who live apart from their partner, or co-parents who live separately. As families and households become more complex and blended, Understanding Society is developing to capture the experiences of people living in different types of household.

Professor Michaela Benzeval
With the current coronavirus situation in the UK, there is an even greater need for data about the experiences of the whole population."
Professor Michaela Benzeval Understanding society

Professor Michaela Benzeval, Director of Understanding Society, said, “Longitudinal data collection is vital for understanding short- and long-term change in the UK. As a household panel study, Understanding Society is ideal for exploring how changes affect individuals, families and whole communities.

“With the current coronavirus situation in the UK, there is an even greater need for data about the experiences of the whole population. We know that government and academic researchers will be using Understanding Society to see what social and economic impact the virus has on UK Society and the wellbeing of the public.”

Understanding Society is based at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at Essex. An internationally-renowned centre for longitudinal data collection, the team at ISER will also be using the new grant to test new innovations in survey methods.

Future work includes experimenting with new technology for data collection, learning more about how participants understand data linkage and work on integrating administrative and survey data. ISER is also committed to supporting users make the best use of data by expanding training and user support activities, and launching a ‘code creator’ to help users extract the key data they need for their research.