Understanding Society is a unique and valuable study that captures important information every year about the social and economic circumstances and attitudes of people living in the UK. Building on the successful British Household Panel Survey, Understanding Society follows whole households and covers all ages allowing researchers to understand the life courses of the whole population over time; 40,000 UK households have contributed to the study from all areas of the UK. Understanding Society also collects additional health information from around 20,000 of the people who take part. Information from the longitudinal survey is primarily used by academics, researchers and policy makers in their work, but the findings are of interest to a much wider group of people including those working in the third sector, health practitioners, business, the media and the general public.

The Study is based on rigorous methodological experimentation and development with the aim of providing researchers with the highest quality designed and harvested data. The survey develops with each new wave of data collection and includes an 'Innovation Panel' - a sample of 1,500 households that have been interviewed every year since 2008. The Innovation Panel creates a testing ground for researchers to conduct methodological experiments, improving survey design and longitudinal research.

About Understanding Society

The Understanding Society scientific leadership team is based at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex. The British Household Panel Study (BHPS) which ISER has been running since 1991 is incorporated into the study.

The aims of the study are to collect data about each sample member and household at annual intervals in order to:

  • track frequent changes in the lives of people, and the factors that are associated with them
  • provide unique information on issues such as child poverty or disability, on factors that influence key life transitions, such as marriage and divorce, and on the effects of earlier life circumstances on later outcomes
  • support research relevant to the formation and evaluation of policy.

Key features

  • Understanding Society covers all ages, allowing researchers to understand the experiences of the whole population over time.
  • The whole household contributes. Information is collected on everyone in a household so that relations between generations, couples and siblings can be explored. 
  • There is continuous data collection. Participants are interviewed every year so that short and long term changes in people’s lives can be investigated.
  • It includes have national, regional and local data. All four countries of the UK are included in the Study allowing researchers to compare the experiences of people in different places and in different policy contexts. 
  • There is an Ethnic Minority Boost. The sample sizes of different ethnic minority groups allow the experiences of specific ethnic minority to be investigated. 
  • The study is multi-topic. Understanding Society covers a range of social, economic and behavioural factors, making it relevant to a wide range of policy makers and researchers. 
  • It can be linked to administrative data. Study data can be linked, with consent, to administrative records from other sources, building a richer picture of households.
  • Biomarkers and genetic data is included. Data collected by nurses to measure people’s health enable researchers to understand the relationship between social and economic circumstances and health.