Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Population and society

ESRC supports the creation of new insights from research and data into understanding the makeup of the nation and its needs across areas including health and care, poverty, disability, housing, wellbeing, education and policing to inform national local and global policies that improve life for all.

Partners involved:

The scope and what we're doing

Building better and fairer nations starts with knowing more about people and the societies we live in. We are investing in research and data collections aimed at understanding UK and global populations and communities to support the development of policies and interventions that work for everyone.

We fund research and data collections into people and society, both here in the UK and throughout the world.

Below are some examples of this work.

Understanding how our society is changing

Society changes, so we need to plan effectively and develop policies that keep up with the times.

The ESRC Centre for Population Change (CPC) is investigating how and why the UK population is changing and what this means for people, communities and governments. Researchers are investigating trends in areas such as fertility, lifespan, migration and education, gathering the data that policymakers and planners need to respond effectively to a changing society.

The ESRC Research Centre on Micro-Social Change at the University of Essex examines how changes in skills, labour, education, family structures, gender roles, population and diversity from migration have implications for the socio-economic wellbeing of families and the intergenerational transmission of life chances.

We are funding research and data collections through our Digital Society Network Plus opportunity to ensure technological change aligns with user needs and to understand the positive and negative impacts of new innovations and how they differ across communities and social groups. Our new Centre for Socio-Digital Futures at the University of Bristol will unite experts from across the world to investigate how different claims about digital futures shape our lives today in order to create new approaches to fairer and more sustainable societies.

Looking at the long term

The UK leads the world in developing and running long-term longitudinal cohort studies that track groups of people over long periods of time, many of which have been funded by ESRC.

Cohort studies provide a rich source of insights, not only about individuals but also about the changes and trends in how we live our lives. By understanding more about the dynamic processes that underlie social and economic life, we can develop more effective policies and interventions that support a better society.

The value of our cohort studies is enhanced and maximised by the Cohort and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources (CLOSER), which brings together data from multiple studies and makes it consistent, comparable and searchable.

Understanding Society, run by the University of Essex, is an ongoing annual survey of around 40,000 UK households asking questions about social and economic circumstances and attitudes of everyone living there. Around 20,000 participants provide additional information about their health and genetics, revealing valuable insights into the long-term relationship between social and economic circumstances and health.

The Millennium Cohort Study, also known as Child of the New Century and led by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at UCL, is following the lives of around 19,000 young people born across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland between 2000 and 2002.

Ethnicity and equality

The UK is not an equal society and some groups are marginalised and discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity, race or religion. Social science research can help us to understand more about the ethnic diversity of the UK and how this intersects with issues such as health, policing, education, employment, immigration and inequality.

Our Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) is the UK’s leading centre of research into ethnic, racial and religious inequalities. The Evidence for Equality National Survey is a major new survey led by CoDE that will help us understand the realities facing ethnic and religious minorities during the pandemic.

It will be the first and largest of its kind in the UK looking at:

  • education
  • employment and economic wellbeing
  • housing and neighbourhoods
  • social and political participation
  • health
  • ethnic and religious identity
  • experiences of racism and discrimination.

Learning and life

A happy and prosperous society needs a workforce with the right mix of professional and vocational skills. Education and access to training and employment opportunities can therefore make a big difference to people’s chances in life, especially when they are young.

Our economic and social science research and data sets are providing key insights and evidence into how to effectively address societal challenges such as the lack of skilled workers, youth unemployment and inequalities in access to opportunities.

Our funded Centre for Learning and Life Chances (LLAKES) at UCL is focusing on education and training, career pathways, intergenerational mobility, civic values, inequality, and social cohesion in order to better understand the connections between learning and life outcomes.

Why we're doing it

Building better and fairer nations starts with knowing more about people and the societies we live in. Finding ways that enable people to live better lives requires a deep understanding of society based on high-quality data and social science research. These insights can support community groups to make evidenced informed decisions and the development of policies and interventions that work for everyone.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Who to contact

Last updated: 27 July 2023

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