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Investigating people-place effects in the UK using linked longitudinal survey and administrative data


There is a long history of research and increasing interest in the role of place in shaping people’s economic and social life chances, in particular the literature investigating the existence and importance of so-called ‘neighbourhood effects’. Neighbourhood effects are commonly defined as impacts on individual-level outcomes that can be attributed to differences in the neighbourhood context, and which cannot be explained by past and present personal and family characteristics.

Scholars have suggested more than a dozen mechanisms through which neighbourhood effects affect objective wellbeing outcomes (e.g., education, employment status, occupation, income, health, and crime), and, more recently, subjective wellbeing outcomes (such as life satisfaction) have come into focus. Albeit, there is considerable disagreement between disciplines on whether neighbourhood effects exist and how important they are, the definition and measurement of neighbourhoods has been fairly unsystematic, and different methodological approaches have yielded different results. The prevailing view seems to be, however, that in the absence of real-world experimental or quasi-experimental evidence (for ethical or practical cost reasons), large-scale longitudinal panel studies augmented with longitudinal geocoded microdata at very immediate scales afford the best opportunities to identify causal effects as they help overcome identification issues relating to self-selection bias, unobserved heterogeneity, and reverse causation, which prevent any conclusions about genuinely causal effects.

Project aims and methods

The project will contribute to the state-of-the-art knowledge about the importance of place effects in several ways. It will provide new evidence for the UK on the presence of place effects and the relative contribution of these effects to individual wellbeing, compared to individual’s characteristics and their family background. The research will use longitudinal microdata from Understanding Society: the United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) and its predecessor the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), which is now incorporated in the UKHLS. Microdata from the UKHLS will be linked to external administrative data for very small geographies and multiple points in time, and at various scales of the neighbourhood. The project will implement sophisticated panel data regression models and causal inference techniques to better address the key identification issues which have hindered previous studies.

This project is one of three funded by the Nuffield Foundation that will be working closely together to better understand the drivers of individuals’ wellbeing.

Team members

Dr Gundi Knies

Research Fellow - ISER, University of Essex

Gundi is a Research Fellow at ISER, having joined in 2007 after completing her training in sociology, social policy analysis and economics. She has more than 17 years of experience working with longitudinal data. As a member of the UKHLS team she takes a leading role in the production of added value content such as linkage to administrative records, and in user support. Her research interests include life satisfaction, income distribution and poverty, as well as neighbourhood effects analysis and she has published high-impact research on these and other topics.

Professor Patricia C. Melo

Associate Professor in Economics - Lisbon School of Economics and Management (ISEG)

Patricia is an Associate Professor in economics with main research interests in regional and urban economics, economic geography, and transport geography. The main focus of her research is the study of the causes of spatial disparities in socio-economic performance, namely, the effects of urban agglomeration economies, human capital, and transport investment on regional development. She is also an Honorary Research Associate at The James Hutton Institute.

Dr Min Zhang

Senior Research Officer - ISER, University of Essex

Min Zhang is a Senior Research Officer whose research interests lie in neighbourhood effects on wellbeing, social mobility, educational inequality, class inequality, and the gender pay gap. She joined ISER to work on this Nuffield-funded neighbourhood effects project in January 2018 after completing her PhD in Applied Social Research at the University of Manchester.


Photo credit: Anthony Cullen