[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 6-Mar-2012
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Contact: Press Office
Economic & Social Research Council

Survey paints a portrait of the UK

A complex and fascinating portrait of a society suffering the effects of the deepest recession since the early 1990s and in which young people appear to have been hardest hit is revealed by new findings from the UK's largest longitudinal household survey Understanding Society. The research published also shows that efforts to get more students from poorer backgrounds to go to university have not been successful and that more needs to be done to get teenagers to live a healthier life in order to assure their future happiness.

The research which makes use of data from Understanding Society, a long term study of 40,000 UK households which began surveying people across the UK in 2009, is published as a series of articles in Understanding Society: Findings 2012. Most articles draw on information gathered from the first two years of the study, which is managed by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex.

A range of interesting findings include the fact that people, particularly men, rely heavily on their partners or wives for social support; that the UK is much more diverse in its population make-up than was previously believed, yet conversely half of White British people have no family ties outside of England; that young people, despite the bad press they receive are, on the whole, well-behaved and happy; that policies to widen access to higher education appear to have failed; that perceived employment discrimination among ethnic minorities is extremely low; and women, once they earn 65 percent or more of the household income pick up a greater share of the housework chores than their economically underperforming spouse.

New findings include:

Middle classes benefit most from higher education expansion:

A healthy teenager is a happy teenager:

Teenagers who turn their backs on a healthy lifestyle and turn to drink, cigarettes and junk food are significantly unhappier than their healthier peers.

Do you know where your child is?

Only a minority of 15 year olds say they have been out after 9.00pm without their parents knowing where they were in the last month, but for those that did, it is associated with problematic behaviour:

Defining White British

The UK population remains predominately White British, but if one considers parentage going back just two generations, then the White British majority becomes much less homogenous:

Why are so many young people unemployed?

An analysis using Understanding Society together with its predecessor the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) of what is driving the extremely high employment amongst young people finds that they suffer from a 'double-penalty' in their attempts to find and keep a job. The two surveys looked at young people and employment over many years, so research making use of them together is able to demonstrate precisely how young people are more adversely affected in the recession and why their numbers in the dole queue continue to swell:

Professor Nick Buck, Director of Understanding Society, said: "The findings provide a fascinating insight into UK society and predicted that some of the research would be influential in helping policy and decision makers to address some of the key issues facing a society battling to emerge from the depths of recession. The large number of people and households involved in this excellent survey means that this research really does paint an accurate picture of our society. As we continue to talk to these people in the coming years, that portrait will become even clearer and even more useful in helping us to address many of the crucial issues that affect us all."

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said:"Longitudinal studies like Understanding Society are invaluable for researchers, decision-makers and society as a whole. They provide important evidence on how social and economic factors influence people's lives, which in turn informs Government policy on a wide range of issues, from education to public health."


The publication is free to download from the Understanding Society website at http://research.understandingsociety.org.uk/findings/findings-2012

ESRC Press Office:
Victoria Morrisroe
Email: victoria.morrisroe@esrc.ac.uk
Telephone 01793 413163

Jeanine Woolley
Email: jeanine.woolley@esrc.ac.uk
Telephone 01793 413119

Notes for Editors:

1. Understanding Society is a world leading study of the socio-economic circumstances in 40,000 UK households. 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 will greatly enhance our insight into the pathways that influence people's longer term occupational trajectories; their health and well-being, their financial circumstances and personal relationships. Understanding Society also breaks new ground with its interdisciplinary focus. 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. More information is available at www.understandingsociety.org.uk

2. Understanding Society has been commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and is supported by a total of 11 Government departments and administrations. The Research Team is led by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex. The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) delivers the study.

3. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's total budget for 2011/12 is 203 million. At any one time the ESRC

supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at www.esrc.ac.uk

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