The UK’s largest household longitudinal study launches its early findings

28 February 2011

Understanding Society, the largest household panel study in the world, publishes its first book of findings drawn from Wave 1 data collected in 2009. This flagship UK wide household panel study will follow 40,000 households, and is run by the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex.

This first volume is an initial analysis of the data by researchers from ISER and the universities of Oxford, Surrey and Warwick. It gives a glimpse of the breadth of the methodological and design innovations that are an essential part of Understanding Society as well as a taste of the research opportunities available.

Nick Buck, Director of Understanding Society comments: "Although these are first findings they cover a wide range of areas of people’s lives and experiences and much, though by no means all, of the questionnaire content is included in the Wave 1 survey. The purpose of the volume is not only to present and share these findings, but more importantly to give future users of Understanding Society a sense of the potential of the study. We look forward to demonstrating that potential even more clearly once Understanding Society has collected longitudinal data."

The distinctive features of Understanding Society which make it such an unrivalled resource for new research are its:

  • Large sample: The target of 40,000 households across the study’s samples gives a unique opportunity to explore issues for which other longitudinal surveys are too small to support effective research. It permits analysis of small subgroups, such as teenage parents or disabled people, and analysis at regional and sub-regional levels, allowing examination of the effects of geographical variation in policy, for example differences between the countries of the UK.
  • Ethnic minority boost sample:  Understanding Society is recruiting a booster sample of nearly 5,000 individuals from the five main ethnic groups: Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Caribbean and Black African (as well as 'other' backgrounds). The ethnic boost will provide sufficient numbers of cases to allow the experiences of ethnic minority people to be analysed robustly for the first time in a UK panel survey.
  • Data linkage: There are plans to link administrative records with the data collected. The information that will be available potentially includes health records, benefit receipts, participation in government employment schemes, educational results, savings and pensions, earnings and National Insurance contributions.
  • Wide topic coverage: The breadth of topics opens up opportunities for diverse research, linking together and analysing different aspects of people's lives. This can include social networks, risky behaviour, psychological traits, cognitive ability, health (including direct physical "biomarker" measures), marital relationship quality, well-being and sleep quality.

The first findings book is published online at http://research.understandingsociety.org.uk/findings/early-findings. Individual chapters are also available to download.

The first set of data from Understanding Society is now available for researchers to use in their analysis. It can be accessed via the Economic and Social Data Service.

For further information contact

ISER Press Office:

ESRC Press Office:

Notes for editors

  1. Understanding Society is a world leading study of the socio-economic circumstances in 40,000 British households. The study allows for deeper analysis of a wide range of sections of the population as they respond to regional, national and international change. Understanding Society will greatly enhance our insight into the pathways that influence peoples longer term occupational trajectories; their health and well-being, their financial circumstances and personal relationships. Understanding Society also breaks new ground with its interdisciplinary focus. The study will capture biomedical data on 20,000 participants and place this alongside rich social histories, helping us weigh the extent to which people's environment influences their health.
  2. Understanding Society has been commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The Research Team is led by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex. The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) delivers the Study.
  3. The ESRC have contributed £27 million towards the funding of Understanding Society, and have successfully secured a total of £19.4 million from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Large Facilities Capital Fund. A further £2.61 million has been secured from a consortium of Government Departments. This funding will support the first five waves of the study until 2015. It is envisaged that the study will continue for up to 20 years.
  4. The ESRC is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2010/11 is £218 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.