A decade of data on life in the UK

An image, taken from above, of people crossing the road at a busy junction

Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study, launched its first survey in 2009, so now has ten years of data from households across the country.

Funded and supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and a number of government departments, Understanding Society is one of the leading sources of data on the UK population.

Since its launch, tens of thousands of households across the UK have completed the survey and continued to take part in the study ever since. Each year Understanding Society issues a wide-ranging questionnaire that asks participants about their:

  • life
  • health
  • education
  • employment and income
  • family and community.

Each household helps the study build a rich picture of life in the UK and track what changes, and what doesn’t, over time.

Providing vital information

The data is used by:

  • researchers worldwide
  • UK government
  • charities
  • thinktanks
  • businesses.

In the last year many participants have also completed regular COVID-19 surveys, alongside their annual survey, giving researchers vital information about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected families and households.

The release of Wave 10 of Understanding Society means that researchers now have a decade of data to explore and analyse. To celebrate this milestone, Understanding Society plans a year-long series of events and mini-conferences on key themes in the study, which will take place throughout 2021.

A week of topical debates

The first of these is a week of topical policy debates featuring researchers and policy commentators who will look beyond short-term pressures to think strategically about the long-term future of society:

  • Monday 25 January: Education and social inequalities – what are the links?
  • Tuesday 26 January: The future of work – how can it generate a health dividend
  • Wednesday 27 January: Parents and children – how one generation influences the next
  • Thursday 28 January: Spending wisely on health – can we do better?
  • Friday 29 January: Financial resilience and recessions – what are we learning?

At the beginning of that week, Understanding Society will release its annual Insights publication. This celebrates innovative research about life in the UK from the past year, and this edition will also look back at the breadth of analysis made possible by its longitudinal data throughout the life of the study.

Focus on changing families

In March, Understanding Society will hold an online mini-conference on Changing Families. The conference will feature:

  • keynote speakers
  • paper sessions
  • discussions
  • workshops and training
  • networking with other researchers.

Achieving a key milestone

Professor Alison Park, ESRC Director of Research, said:

It’s exciting to see Understanding Society reach its 10th birthday and to celebrate the richness and depth of the data it provides about life across the UK. With the addition of the COVID-19 surveys, this longitudinal study will provide vital and unique insights about how the pandemic has affected families and households both in the short and longer term.

Professor Michaela Benzeval, Director of Understanding Society, said:

Thanks to our long-term funding, Understanding Society has been collecting data from its participants for over 10 years. In 2021 we’re celebrating recent findings, looking back at insights from all the years covered by the Study and exploring the implications of the findings for the future.

Longitudinal surveys become increasingly valuable over time and with 10 years of data and research we can really see the value of the Study, which will only grow with time.

Further information

Details of all the special 2021 events are available on Understanding Society’s conference website. Events are open to all and are free to attend, but advance booking is required.

Understanding Society data are available to download from the UK Data Service.

Top image: Credit: georgeclerk/Getty Images

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