New Policy Fellows for Understanding Society

The three new projects will focus on policy-relevant research.

Earlier in the year, researchers applied for short-term projects that use Understanding Society data and have the potential to make a substantial contribution to informing and influencing public policy. The aim of the scheme is to create research-led impact whilst developing new models of working with policy makers.

What are the projects?

Social action as a route to the ballot box : Can volunteering reduce inequalities in turnout?

Dr Stuart Fox, Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods, Cardiff University

This research will examine the benefits of volunteering for the political engagement of young people in the UK. Volunteering is a particularly important source of social capital for young people, with the potential to boost their engagement with politics as well as benefit their economic prospects and health.

Using longitudinal analysis of Understanding Society data, the project will look at how successful volunteering is in facilitating young people’s political engagement by studying its effect on their interest in politics, beliefs about civic duty and voting turnout.

Dr Fox said, “Previous research suggests schemes that promote volunteering (such as National Citizen Service or GwirVol) can help young people vote, but we don’t really know whether that potential is being realised, or whether volunteering can help reduce the gap between not only young people and their elders, but young people from different backgrounds.

“Understanding Society is the only survey capable of reliably answering these important questions, and so I’m delighted to have the chance to work with them on this project. I hope that not only does it result in some fascinating research about youth political engagement, but also some helpful policy recommendations for the Westminster, Welsh and Scottish governments about how they can use their support for volunteering schemes to also help reduce the turnout gap between young people and their elders.”


Building Robust Evidence-Based Policy for Children in the Digital Age

Professor Andrew K. Przybylski, Oxford Internet Institute & Department of Experimental Psychology

The amount of time young British youth spend online has doubled in the last decade. As the ubiquity of social media and digital screens has increased, so too have concerns their use might negatively influence psychosocial development and children’s wellbeing. Currently, the UK’s public policy regarding these concerns is in flux. In line with the Digital Economy Act of 2017, governmental departments including the Department of Health & Social Care, select committees, and civil servants are now setting regulatory priorities to shape children’s digital use in the next decade. Using Understanding Society data, this research will use cutting edge statistical techniques to fundamentally improve the evidence stakeholders will depend on when crafting youth technology policy in the UK.

Dr Przybylski on why the project is important, “In working with parents and advising key stakeholders in government I have learned that the public policy concerned with children’s digital screen time is, unfortunately, not well grounded in solid empirical evidence. I don’t think this is an intractable challenge however. My previous experience working with the data has taught me that Understanding Society provides an extremely rich and well-documented resource for testing some of the key outstanding questions about screens and children’s health. Our team is looking forward to applying cutting-edge statistical techniques to address our research questions, taking into account technological, social, family, and community factors. We are keen to put the effects of social media, gaming, and other screen-based activities in a clear empirical context and communicate our findings to policymakers and technology industry representatives here in the U.K. and abroad.”


The Intergenerational Persistence of Inequalities in Health and Income: Where can we target policy to best reduce inequalities?

Dr Heather Brown IHS, Newcastle University

This project aims to utilise data from the British Household Panel Survey and Understanding Society Survey to investigate generational and intergenerational inequalities in health and income across different age groups (16-25, 26-44, 45-64, 65+) and to determine how inequalities have changed between and within different age groups over the period 1991 to 2016.

Dr Brown comments on why she wanted to use Understanding Society data,I have been working with the Understanding Society Survey since the first wave of data became available.  It is a fantastic resource to look at family relationships and how these relate to health and economic outcomes, as well as compare outcomes across generations.  For this project, I am really excited about exploring how health and income inequalities may have changed over time and how these changes are impacted by government policy.  I hope that this project can lead to synergies in the development of policies to reduce health and income inequalities to ensure equality of opportunity.”