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Our titles on social research methods and research practices span disciplines and embrace new collaborations and ways of working as part of a focus on challenge-led research.
Highlights in this area include the Social Research Association Shorts, which provide academics and research users with short, high-quality and focused guides to specific topics, and the Longitudinal and Life Course Studies journal.
Social Research Methods and Research Practices
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Writing is not a discrete activity which happens late in the research or evaluation process. It starts at conception and continues through every stage of research and often beyond the end of the project. This chapter begins by identifying and dispelling some myths about the writing process. This is followed by a guide to the writing process including how to get started, the non-linear nature of writing, rules for plain English, example report structures and how to avoid common pitfalls. The topics of structure, plagiarism and citation are covered in detail and the difference between findings and recommendations is explained. Text editing is covered including how and when to seek external feedback and how to use this constructively. Guidance is given on how to polish writing, and this is followed by an update of the case studies followed by exercises, discussion questions and a debate topic.
We use individual-level population data to characterise the pathways followed by young people in England who experience custody. We identify a typology of pathways up to age 18 and a separate typology covering ages 19–22. Our results confirm the generally poor prospects among this group, showing 80% to be firmly established as not in employment, education or training (NEET) by age 22. Despite the high level of deprivation in the population considered, prospects are still found to vary with specific markers of disadvantage. Managing to avoid NEET when 16–18 is an important part of the strategy for avoiding NEET when older. This suggests the importance of policy interventions aimed at re-engagement of those who experience custody as a young person.
As a major socio-historical event affecting different aspects of life, the COVID-19 pandemic presents a unique opportunity to study how different population groups adapt. We investigate the impact of this crisis on the evolution of perceived stress in the short and medium term in Switzerland, using data of the Swiss Household Panel from 2016 to early 2021, which include annual measures of perceived stress and a study between waves, conducted in May and June 2020 at the end of the first semi-lockdown. Using the longitudinal structure of the data with pre-crisis measurements, we estimate pooled OLS, fixed effects and first difference models, which include socio-demographic variables, life events, socio-economic status, work-related variables, stress-reducing resources and restrictions in place.
Results for the overall population show a continuous increase in stress levels between 2016 and 2019 and a stress reduction right after the first semi-lockdown followed by a return to pre-pandemic levels. Privileged groups with higher levels of stress before the pandemic were most likely to reduce perceived stress. Characteristics related to more favourable trajectories include stable or improved financial situations and high levels of education (short-term effects), and high-pressure jobs and working hours (short- and medium-term effects). Our analyses reveal the importance of resources, such as social relations and work–life balance, to individuals’ management of the effects of the pandemic.
Our results show that the effects of the pandemic on perceived stress are context-specific. They underline the importance of longitudinal analyses to understand the complexity of vulnerability and adaptation processes.
The purpose of this study is to investigate how well-being changes over the adult life course from early adulthood in 1998 through to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021. We identify diverse well-being trajectories over time in a cohort of British Columbians and explore the extent to which changes in well-being associated with the pandemic varied for individuals in these different trajectory groups. Specifically, we ask: what was the effect of the pandemic on the well-being of individuals with different prior well-being trajectories over adulthood and how were these effects related to personal, educational and employment factors? To address this question, we model well-being trajectories over a large span of adulthood from the age of 28 to 51 years old. We find a diversity of distinct patterns in well-being changes over adulthood. The majority experience high well-being over time, while almost one in five experiences either chronically low or drastically decreased well-being in mid-adulthood, which coincides with the pandemic. Notably, those who have completed post-secondary education are less likely to report low well-being trajectories. Those with the lowest well-being over time also report the largest negative effects of the pandemic, which illustrates the compounding effects of the pandemic on existing inequalities.
Research about the Flynn effect, the secular rise in IQ, is heavily based on conscript data from successive male birth cohorts. This inevitably means that two distinct phenomena are mixed: fertility differences by IQ group (‘compositional Flynn effect’), and any difference between parents and children (‘within-family Flynn effect’). Both will influence trends in cognitive ability. We focused on the latter phenomenon, exploring changes in cognitive abilities during adolescence within one generation, and between two successive generations within the same family. We identified determinants and outcomes in three linked generations in the Stockholm Multigenerational Study. School and conscript data covered logical/numerical and verbal scores for mothers at age 13, fathers at 13 and 18, and their sons at 18. Raw scores, and change in raw scores, were used as outcomes in linear regressions. Both parents’ abilities at 13 were equally important for sons’ abilities at 18. Boys from disadvantaged backgrounds caught up with other boys during adolescence. Comparing fathers with sons, there appeared to be a positive Flynn effect in logical/numeric and verbal abilities. This was larger if the father had a working-class background or many siblings. A Flynn effect was only visible in families where the father had low general cognitive ability at 18. We conclude that there is a general improvement in logical/numeric and verbal skills from one generation to the next, primarily based on improvement in disadvantaged families. The Flynn effect in Sweden during the later 20th century appears to represent a narrowing between social categories.
While research has investigated the effects of the Great Recession on the Irish economy using economic indicators or cross-sectional household-level data, this research note applies group-based multitrajectory modelling to provide a more nuanced approach. Using nationally representative, longitudinal data from the Growing Up in Ireland study, we analyse patterns in three common measures of economic well-being (financial strain; disposable income; material deprivation) across Irish households in the period leading up to, during and after the Great Recession, and subsequently, break down the characteristics for each group of trajectories. We identify six distinct trajectory clusters, which all indicate declining income and increasing financial strain from the start to the height of the economic depression. However, trajectory groupings show that experiences were far from uniform, with previous economic well-being and demographic characteristics shaping the household experience. Implications for future research are discussed.
Although a negative association between socio-economic inequalities and health has been established, there is a dearth of robust longitudinal studies examining this relationship in adolescents. This study used a large, nationally representative longitudinal data set to investigate the association between socio-economic inequality, subjective health status and disabilities among young people in Northern Ireland over a ten-year period. Data were from the Northern Ireland Longitudinal Study, a census-based record linkage study (N = 46,535). Logistic regression models were estimated in which health and disability variables from the 2011 census were predicted by household deprivation in education, housing quality, housing tenure and employment from the 2001 census. Models were adjusted for health and disability status in 2001. Deprivation in employment, housing tenure and coming from a single-parent household in 2001 independently predicted poorer subjective health and disability status ten years later [ORs = 1.28–1.93]. Deprivation in education in 2001 was also associated with increased risk of disability in 2011 [OR = 1.15; 95% CI = 1.06–1.25]. These results show that there is a need to dedicate more resources and support for economically disadvantaged children and young people in Northern Ireland, where child health outcomes are poorer than in the rest of the UK.
This article relies on a prospective qualitative study, that provides valuable insight into the mechanism through which the meaning of holidays is built over time. Following a life course perspective, the article analyses the continuities as well as the twists and turns of the meaning of Christmas in relation to significant turning points that occur along the paths of individual lives in transition to adulthood. Grounded on an inductive approach, the study draws on longitudinal qualitative data collected through solicited diaries, kept by 14 young Romanian adults, around Christmas time, along four panel waves (2004, 2010, 2016, 2020). Results show that there is no universal configuration of the meaning of Christmas, but rather a diversity of personalised dynamic configurations, in line with individuals’ subjective realities, which are sensitive to family traditions passed down during socialisation, and constantly updated with each generation that assumes them, but also to significant life events that occurred on their early adult life course trajectories, determining a re-evaluation of attitudes about self, life, religion and others. The article concludes that Christmas, as a social construct, is a malleable bearer of values, which acts both as a ‘sword’ and as a ‘shield’ that diarists use according to the needs, wishes and challenges that arise in their transition from adolescence to enhanced adulthood.
This article draws on the Growing Up in Ireland study and the Scottish sample of the Millennium Cohort Study to explore the factors influencing inequalities in children’s cognitive skills on entry to primary education. It adopts a multidimensional comparative approach, which directly compares the effects of parental education and household income on several cognitive outcomes (vocabulary, language, reading and numbers) among five-year-old children and examines the extent to which inequalities in these outcomes are mediated by the home learning environment (HLE) and early childhood education (ECE). Home learning environment plays a stronger role in explaining actual vocabulary differences in Ireland while it plays a stronger role in school readiness (teacher-assessed skills) in Scotland. In both countries, use of centre-based care at 9 months and 3 years was markedly higher among the top income quintile. Centre-based care is found to play a mediating role in school readiness in Scotland. Nonetheless, the findings point to important direct effects of family background even when HLE and childcare are taken into account. The analyses point to differences in the trajectory of early skill development in the two countries, with the impact of early skill development being more marked in Scotland than Ireland. Comparative analyses of this kind thus yield important insights for policy development by highlighting potential domains (such as childcare) or timing (preschool or within-school) for intervention.