Students Staff

27 June 2011

Bedtimes and Pensions: Conference showcases wealth of longitudinal research

Colchester Campus

How was Britain’s social mobility affected by raising the school leaving age to 16? How do you design policies for vulnerable young people without understanding the many disadvantages that they face? Why are people in a professional career more likely than those in lower paid jobs to work beyond pension age? These are just some of the research questions that will be discussed at the Understanding Society/BHPS Conference 2011  hosted at the University of Essex by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) from June 30 to July 1 2011.

The two-day conference brings together researchers from all over the world to present and discuss a variety of research using data primarily from two of Britain’s most comprehensive household longitudinal studies. The British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) started in 1991 and repeated 18 waves of data collection. It is now incorporated into Understanding Society, the largest longitudinal household study in the world, which started collecting data in 2009 from a sample of 40,000 UK households.

More than 60 papers drawing on analysis of data from BHPS, Understanding Society and other longitudinal studies will examine pertinent questions relating to young people, families, employment, migration, health, housing and wealth. They include the following:

• Using data from the first wave of Understanding Society, Dr Cara Booker from ISER explores well-being in families where a member suffers from a chronic illness. Her paper finds that the well-being of adult children is not affected by a parent’s illness but that younger children suffer more emotional problems if either parent is ill.

Moving on and moving up  is a working paper by Dr Marina Shapira at the University of Sterling. Using data from BHPS it explores the modern phenomenon of dual earning couples and what happens to the “trailing spouse”, both male and female, when career progression means that the family has to re-locate.

• In their paper Girls like Pink, Professor Lucinda Platt of the Institute of Education and Javier Polavieja at IMDEA-Social Sciences Institute, also draw on data from BHPS to examine what influences the career preferences of boys and girls. They find that boys and girls whose parents work in pre-dominantly male or female occupations will themselves aspire to similar jobs. However, they also find that individual agency – a child’s levels of self esteem, determination and ambition – also has an important part to play in career preferences and the ability to aspire to non-gender specific occupations regardless of their parents’ jobs.

Time for Bed by Professor Yvonne Kelly at ISER uses the Millennium Cohort Study to examine the little researched area of the bedtime habits of 7 year olds. Her research explores the relationship between children’s bed times and their cognitive outcomes and social development and the impact of allowing children to have TVs in their bedrooms.

Nick Buck, Director of Understanding Society said: "Over the last 20 years BHPS data has been used to help identify embedded social problems and this evidence used to help shape the policies that address them. Its successor, Understanding Society is now offering so much more as it provides access to data from a much larger sample of the UK population. It is an ambitious study that aims to innovate and push the boundaries of what can be achieved from longitudinal studies. It is a resource that UK social science is rightly very proud of and data is already being used in a way that doesn’t just reflect society, but will help to shape it."

The biennial conference is a chance for researchers from the most eminent to those just starting their careers to exchange ideas and share knowledge. As well as research papers there will be the opportunity to discuss the methodological advances in longitudinal studies that have come about due to Understanding Society’s unique Innovation Panel resource, which is a smaller sample of respondents that are kept separate from the main survey. This allows the Understanding Society team to conduct and evaluate experiments with new survey methods before trying it out on the main group.


ISER Communications Officer
Christine Garrington (Tel: 01206 874823 or 07546 11 76 73, email:

ESRC Press Office:
Danielle Moore (Tel: 01793 413122, email: )
Jeanine Woolley (Tel: 01793 413119, email: )


1. 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 2010/11 is £218 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at

2. Understanding Society is a household panel study of 40,000 UK households. It is funded by the "Economic and Social Research Council":http://www.esrc, and designed and run by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex. Data was first collected in 2009 and participants will be interviewed annually for at least the next 20 years. Data from the first wave was released to the social science community for analysis in November 2010 and more data, which is available via the Economic and Social Data Service, will be made available later this year.

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