About the Study

Understanding Society is the UK Household Longitudinal Study. The Study is based at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex.

We follow our participants over a long period of time, giving us a long-term perspective on people’s lives. As a longitudinal study, Understanding Society helps us explore how life in the UK is changing and what stays the same over many years.

We are a household panel study, interviewing everyone in a household to see how different generations experience life in the UK. The Study helps us find out about parents and children, siblings, new family formation and our wider family and community links.

The sample size for the Study is large, allowing researchers to investigate the experiences of different sub-groups and ethnic minorities over time.

Key features of Understanding Society

  • It covers all ages, allowing us to understand the experiences of the whole population over time.
  • The whole household contributes. We collect information from everyone in a household so that relations between generations, couples and siblings can be explored.
  • There is continuous data collection. We interview participants every year so that short- and long-term changes in people’s lives can be investigated.
  • All four countries of the UK are included allowing researchers to compare the experiences of people living in different places and in different policy contexts.
  • We have an Ethnic Minority Boost sample and an Immigrant and Ethnic Minority Boost sample to increase the sample sizes of different ethnic minority and immigrant groups, allowing more detailed research to be carried out on the experiences of different ethnic minorities across migrant generations in the UK. 
  • The Study is multi-topic and covers a range of social, economic and behavioural factors, making it valuable to a wide range of policy makers and researchers.
  • Geographical data linkage is possible, allowing researchers to investigate the role of neighbourhoods and regions on individual lives. 
  • It can be linked to administrative data. Study data can be linked, with consent, to administrative records from other sources to build a richer picture of households.
  • Our participants have contributed biomarker and genetic data collected via nurse visits. This health and genetic information enables researchers to investigate the links between social and economic circumstances and health.
  • It’s under-pinned by world-leading methodological research. Understanding Society is supported and developed by an internationally recognised team of survey methodologists, statisticians and social science researchers. The Study includes innovative experimentation, development and testing.

Understanding Society and the British Household Panel Survey

Understanding Society is built on the successful British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) which ran from 1991-2009 and had around 10,000 households in it. Understanding Society started in 2009 and interviewed around 40,000 households, including around 8,000 of the orginal BHPS households. The inclusion of the BHPS households allows researchers and policy makers to track the lives of these households from 1991. 

Who uses Understanding Society? 

  • University researchers from a wide range of different disciplines. To date Understanding Society data has been downloaded over 34,000 times by researchers from across the world.
  • UK Government departments. The Study is used for official statistics and for analysis in a wide range of departments, including the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly. 
  • Charities, think tanks and businesses.  Understanding Society is used by organisations who want to know about people’s experiences and life in the UK.

You can find out more about the impact that Understanding Society has here.