Pregnancy and early childhood in Understanding Society

This studentship supports research on areas such as dependent children, child development, parenting styles, baby behaviour and pregnancy outcomes. 

We are looking for candidates interested in pursuing a PhD in Economics or a PhD in Sociology, conducting research on pregnancy and early childhood using Understanding Society data.

Over the course of this studentship the successful candidate will have the opportunity to develop their own research agenda focused on outcomes of children up to the age of 10, as the Study collects annual information from before and after children are born and as they grow up. We also collect information from the whole family, providing family context. In addition, all children in the household are Understanding Society participants, so we have the same information on siblings.

A total of 31,759 children have been reported during the 11 waves released by Understanding Society. However, Understanding Society children’s data has been relatively under-used. This PhD opportunity has been created to enable the student to explore areas such as child development, parental styles, pregnancy outcomes or baby behaviour. For example, the kinds of questions your PhD could address include: Do older sibling’s personality traits have an impact on young children development? Are parental styles faced by the child influenced by early childhood personal characteristics? Are there any effects of fertility treatment on baby behaviour? What role does household context and parental traits play on breastfeeding?

More information about the main available data expected to be used in both the research proposal and the overall dissertation can be found on our website.

All the other valuable and relevant information available in Understanding Society can be used to enrich the analysis. You can find out about the content of Understanding Society in our Long-term Content Plan.


  • The pregnancy and early childhood studentship is funded by the Understanding Society grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and will be part of the economics or the sociology pathway within the SeNSS Doctoral Training Partnership. Full details of SeNSS can be found on their website.
  • The successful candidate will be based at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), University of Essex, and will be part of the SeNSS DTP.
  • Data collected by Understanding Society must be used in all chapters of the thesis dissertation.
  • Applicants must have a degree in an appropriate area of economics, sociology or other social science, statistics, health sciences and have strong quantitative skills.
  • To apply for a Masters plus PhD you will need: qualifications or professional experience equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree (Honours). To apply for a PhD only you will need: qualifications or professional experience equivalent to a Masters degree and which includes the required research methods training. If you would like to apply for the PhD, but are concerned that you do not have all the required research methods training, an additional one or two term of funding many be offered so that research methods training can be completed. 
  • The studentship covers tuition fees and provides a tax-free stipend to cover your living costs, set at £17,668 per year for a full time student. It also provides access to research training funds.
  • International students are eligible to apply for this studentship. International fees will be waived for this studentship for the duration of the studentship. Visa costs are not covered by the studentship.
  • A research proposal around 1,000 to 2,500 words is suggested.
  • The PhD student will be co-supervised by Professor Michaela Benzeval and Dr. Edith Aguirre. Please contact either supervisor for informal discussions about your ideas:

Apply through the University of Essex online portal application system stating this ISER studentship in your application. The closing date for applications is 28 February 2023. Interviews will take place in March. 


Taught and research degrees


Supervision and teaching from leading academics


Fully-funded studentships through our Doctoral Training Centre

How to apply

A step by step guide