COVID-19 survey frequently asked questions

About the survey

What content does the COVID-19 survey cover?

  • The content of the questionnaire for the waves currently completed and planned can be found in the content plan

What questions are asked and how often?

  • Some core questions are asked in each wave of the survey, while some are asked every few waves, and others are asked only once. See Section 7 (Questionnaire Content) in the User Guide and the COVID-19 content plan.

Who can I contact if I have further questions about the survey? 

How many waves of the survey have already been conducted and when?

  • The COVID-19 survey started in April 2020, with Wave 2 happening in May, Wave 3 in June, Wave 4 in July, Wave 5 in September and Wave 6 in November. There was no survey in August or October.

What survey data has been released so far?

What is the interview mode?

  • The interview mode for the regular surveys is web. In May we conducted a telephone interview for those households where there are no regular web users. Another telephone survey is planned for November. 

How long does the interview take?

  • The web surveys take approximately 20 minutes to complete.


How were eligible sample members invited to participate?

  • Pre-notification letters were sent to the eligible sample members. These letters explained the purpose of the COVID-19 survey, what they would be asked to do and how they would be rewarded. They were also told that they would be sent invitation letters via email or SMS depending on the contact information held by the survey. See Section 6 (Fieldwork) of the User Guide for further details.

Does the COVID-19 survey include children? 

  • All household members aged 16 and over are invited to take part in the COVID-19 survey. The Wave 4 survey 10 -15 year olds were sent a short paper SDQ (Strengths and Difficulties) questionnaire. None of the previous waves include children respondents. We have also asked parents for data on their children in the modules on home schooling, special educational needs and SDQ for under 10s, as well as parent-child relations for both within household families and separated families.

What is the incentive for completing this survey?

  • Sample members who completed the monthly survey were offered £2 for each monthly survey completed which they could exchange for a variety of gift cards, e-vouchers or a donation to charity.

Who is eligible for COVID-19 survey interviews?

  • All members aged 16 years and older, as of April 2020, of the main Understanding Society samples (GPS, EMBS, BHPS, IEMBS), who were in active households (i.e. households who have participated in at least one of the last two waves of data collection) but excluding those who were adamant refusals or mentally or physically unable to make an informed decision to take part, and those with unknown postal addresses or addresses abroad. See Section 5 (Sample) of the User Guide.

Who are considered to be non-respondents, partial respondents and full-respondents?

  • In the web surveys, those who do not participate in the interview or drop out before completing the coronavirus illness module are coded as non-respondents. Those who drop out before an important but not crucial module are coded as partial respondents (this cut-off point varies by the monthly survey). The remainder are full-respondents. See Table 6.3 in the User Guide where these cut-off points are specified. Note that the data for the few questions that the non-respondents completed before dropping out are not released. See Section 6 (Fieldwork) of the User Guide.

Using the COVID-19 data

How can I access these data?

  • These data can be accessed via the UK Data Service here.

Can I link the dataset to geographical data? How?

  • Datasets containing the Understanding Society COVID-19 geographical identifiers LSOA 2011 (SN 8663) and Local Authority District (SN 8664) are available from the UK Data Service (see Section 4 of the Covid-19 User Guide for access details and note that these files are classified as Special Licence). These datasets can be used to link the main Understanding Society COVID-19 dataset (SN 8644) to the LSOA 2011 or Local Authority District location for each respondent. Each dataset consists of a file for every wave. Each file contains PIDP (the linking variable) and the appropriate geographical identifier.

How do I read the questionnaire?

  • The questionnaire lists the questions in the order in which they were asked and for each question includes the question text, the source for the question and the universe which describes who were eligible for the question. See Section 8 (How to read the questionnaire) of the User Guide.

How can I find variables?

  • You can do a key word search for variables across all COVID-19 data files here. Alternatively, you can search by data files here. When you click on a variable from the search results, you will see a short description of the variable, the question text, the data file it is included in, and the frequency distribution across the different waves it was asked in (this will require you to click on the cascading wave tabs).

What is the naming convention for files?

  • There are two types of data files: those that include data pertaining to each monthly survey and those that include information that covers all monthly surveys. The wave specific filenames, have a prefix cW_ where W equals a, b, c,… depending on the monthly wave that the data file refers to. All data files that include data from the web surveys have a suffix _w.  The cross wave file names start with x. For example, in the first monthly web survey in April 2020, one of the data file names was CA_INDRESP_W. Sections 10.2 (Naming convention of files) in the User Guide.

What is the naming convention for variables?

  • Variable names have a wave  prefix cW_ where W equals a, b, c,… depending on the monthly wave survey it was asked in. Questions that are identical to the main annual survey questions retain the same variable names, but if the questions were modified then these variable names have a suffix _cv. For example, the variable CA_SCLONELY_CV in the datafile CA_INDRESP_W. The “Source” field in the questionnaire also explains the source for the question and whether it was modified. Some variables from the main annul surveys are included. These have the usual wave prefix reflecting the main annual survey they were taken from. E.g., J_IOUTCOME is the interview outcome from Wave 10.But if these variables are time-invariant or asked only once these do not have the wave prefix. E.g. PSU, STRATA, BIRTHY, RACEL_DV, BORNUK_DV. The variable PIDP, which is the unique cross-wave individual identifier, does not have a wave prefix and is included in all files. Sections 10.3 & 10.4 (Naming concention of variables, Naming of variables from multicode questions) in the User Guide.

What information do the cW_indresp_w and cW_indresp_t files contain?

  • These files include information asked in the individual web interviews (_w) of the telelphone interviews (_t). See Section11 (Contents of the INDRESP files) in the User Guide for further details.

What information does the XSAMPLE file contain?

  • The file XSAMPLE, includes information about every sample member who was eligible for the COVID-19 survey and invited to participate, (i.e. it includes information on non-respondents as well as partial and full-respondents). It includes some basic information about these sample members such as year of birth, sex, ethnic group, whether born in the UK, interview outcomes from Waves 9, 10 and 11 of the annual interviews. In addition, this file includes survey process information for the monthly surveys (and is updated every month to include new variables pertaining to that month) such as feed forward variables, interview outcomes, interview process variables. See Section 12 (contents of the sample file XSAMPLE) in the User Guide.

How are missing data coded?

  • All missing values are given a specific negative value to represent the reason for the data being missing. A value of -1 means the respondent reported “don’t know” while -2 means they chose “Prefer not to say”, but if they did not answer the question or either of the response options, “don’t know” and “Prefer not to say”, then the response is coded -9. If the respondent was not asked the question due to routing or because they broke off the survey prior to this question, then the variable is coded as -8. See sub-section 10.5 and Table 10.2 in the User Guide.

What are the income and earnings variables?

  • See sub-section 1.3 (Income and earnings variables) in the User Guide.

What variables are topcoded? How?

  • The End User License (EUL) version of the data includes top-coded versions of the income, earnings and household composition variables. Details of the topcoding rules are available in Section 11.5 (Top-coding of Variables) in the User Guide.

Can I link the data to the UKHLS main annual survey data? How?

  • Yes, the COVID-19 survey data can be linked to the main UKHLS annual survey data using the variable PIDP which is included in all data files. See sub-section 10.5 in the User Guide.

Can I link the data from the different COVID-19 monthly surveys? How?

  • Yes, the COVID-19 monthly survey data files can be linked to each other using the variable PIDP which is included in all data files. See sub-section 10.5 in the User Guide.

How can I identify the respondents in the same household?

  • As this survey was designed as an individual interview, there are no household identifiers available. But respondents from the same household can be approximately identified using information about whether they are living at the same address and if they were living in the same household at the last interview. The procedure explain in sub-section 11.7 in the User Guide.

What information is carried over from the main annual survey to the COVID-19 survey files?

  • Some basic background information about the sample member (such as year of birth, sex, ethnic group, whether born in UK), sample design variables (such as psu, strata) and interview outcomes and household identifiers at the last three main annual survey waves (i.e. 9 to 11) are included.

What weights are available?

  • See section 14 (Weighting and adjusting standard errors for sample design) in the User Guide.

How should I adjust for standard errors?

  • See section 14 (Weighting and adjusting standard errors for sample design) in the User Guide.

What does the file CA_SCHILD_W contain? How is this file structured?

  • This file includes information collected in the home schooling module, asked of parents and guardians. The variables are included in the file CA_INDRESP_W but then these are restructured at the child level and included in this file. Each row is uniquely identified by the child’s PIDP, PIDP_C. As more than one person may have responded to questions about a child, for each question there are 11 sets of variables where the suffix shows who answered the question. For example, if the biological, step or adopted mother answered the question then the variables will have a suffix _MNSPID. See Section 13 in the User Guide.

Has Understanding Society published any findings from the COVID-19 survey?