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Understanding non-response on Understanding Society

This research project has been completed. Please contact a team member for further information.


In all panel surveys, a proportion of people approached to take part do not co-operate, at least not at all stages of the survey. Some may refuse to be interviewed at all; others will complete the interview but refuse some other component of the survey, such as giving consent to have personal data linked to survey responses.

Non-response at each stage of the survey can introduce bias if respondents and non-respondents are different.

If non-response bias can be understood and reduced this will help researchers to improve the accuracy of their analysis using Understanding Society data.

Project aims

The project seeks to find out more about which kinds of people take part in Understanding Society: the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) and which kinds of participants agree to having administrative data linked to their survey responses for research purposes.

It aims to:

  • enable Understanding Society data users to better handle non-response in estimation
  • help survey practitioners to identify ways of reducing non-response bias on similar future surveys
  • further the field of non-response research more generally

Data sources and methods

This project has two parts.

Part 1

In co-operation with the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the researchers will link Understanding Society sample addresses to responses to the 2011 Population Census.

This will enable comparisons to be made between responding and non-responding households, in terms of characteristics measured in the Census. It will provide researchers with a clear picture of the differences between survey participants and non-participants and will provide information that will help analysts to make appropriate adjustments for non-response.

Part 2

This strand of the project looks at the role of interviewers in obtaining respondent consent to have personal data from administrative records linked to their survey responses for research purposes.

A survey of Understanding Society interviewers will be conducted to obtain information about their attitudes, personality, interviewing practices and experience and this will be linked to the survey data.

This will allow the exploration of the extent of variation between interviewers in their success at obtaining respondent consent, and whether this variation can be explained by the characteristics or attitudes of the interviewers.

The research will also investigate differences between respondents who give consent for data linkage and those who do not, in terms of a wide range of socio-economic variables and for two different types of linked data (health records and education records).

Team members

Professor Peter Lynn

Professor of Survey Methodology - Institute for Social and Economic Research

Principal Investigator

Dr Tarek Al Baghal

Research Fellow - Institute for Social and Economic Research


Dr Jonathan Burton

Associate Director, Surveys - Institute for Social and Economic Research


Dr Gundi Knies

Research Fellow - Institute for Social and Economic Research


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Photo credit: Understanding Society