Social research is research conducted by social scientists, such as anthropologists, economists, psychologists and sociologists. It aims to understand human behaviour, mental processes, and how people interact in society. Researchers apply different statistical methods to data in order to do this. The objective of their research is to understand how and why people fare differently in life, and therefore how policies can be designed to help improve the lives of some.
Survey research involves collecting information from a sample of individuals through their answers to questions. Surveys are used in lots of parts of our society, for example by retail companies to understand shoppers’ preferences, in polls to reveal people’s voting intentions, and in studies such as Next Steps. Surveys are carried out in different ways – including face-to-face or over the telephone with an interviewer, or on the internet by self-completion.
A cohort study follows a group of people that were born at a similar date or period of time – be it a day, month, year or decade, for instance. It follows these people throughout their lives, and collects information from them at particular ages. By following the same people over time, these studies are able to tell us how and why people change as they get older. Next Steps is a cohort study following people born between 1 September 1989 and 31 August 1990.
Our society is changing fast. Findings from cohort studies are used to chart and understand how society has changed over the years, and how life experiences are different for each generation. They help understand the impact of societal trends such as our ageing population and the growth in lone-parent and step-families, and changes such as growing employment insecurity.
Cohort studies help understand that change. Evidence from cohort studies have contributed to many policy decisions in diverse areas – such as increasing the duration of maternity leave, raising the school leaving age and updating breast feeding advice given to parents.