UK households: a longitudinal study

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The UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) is now known as Understanding Society.[1] It is the largest panel survey in the world, supporting social and economic research. Its sample size is 40,000 households from the United Kingdom or approx. 100,000 individuals.

Data collection, or fieldwork, began in January 2009 and the plan is to follow and interview annually the members of the original households (and their newly formed households, if applicable). The fieldwork period is 24 months, but each person is still interviewed annually, i.e., the fieldwork for consecutive waves overlap.

The study is mainly funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, and led by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER)[2] at the University of Essex.

As a panel survey, Understanding Society is a form of longitudinal study which means that the survey consists of information about the same individuals at regular intervals and so can be used to track changes in people's lives and attitudes over time. It can also be used to measure phenomena such as poverty persistence, unemployment duration, duration of marriage or cohabitation and analyze the factors that affect these durations. 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[3] will enhance our insight into the pathways that influence peoples longer term occupational trajectories; their health and well-being, their financial circumstances and personal relationships.

From its second wave (starting in 2010) onwards the Understanding Society incorporates the British Household Panel Survey, which has been carried out at ISER[4] since 1991.

The Understanding Society is one of the first longitudinal surveys in UK to put ethnicity at the heart of the survey and include an Ethnic Minority Boost Sample[5] (approximately 1000 adults from each of the five main ethnic minority groups: Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Caribbean and African plus members of other minorities as identified in the screening).

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 relative to their genetic make-up.

This study also consists of a methodological survey called the Innovation Panel[6] which is conducted in the year prior to the main survey to enable research in key methodological issues such as the quality of new questions, methods to improve response rates, mode effects. This sample consists of 1500 households.

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