The Research Centre on Micro-Social Change (MiSoC)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Essex
Department Name: Inst for Social and Economic Research


Across the developed world, societies are responding to two major trends: the need for a labour force that is highly adaptive and creative, with higher levels of education and a greater reliance on social skills; and demographic changes, including new family structures, changing gender roles, a population aging with a strong socio-economic gradient, and growing diversity from migration. These interconnected trends have major implications for the socio-economic wellbeing of families and the intergenerational transmission of life chances, and present new challenges for policy-makers. We will investigate how individuals and families are responding to these challenges, as well as to shifting policy priorities and political constraints, examine their impact on well-being and the intergenerational transmission of life chances, and assess the implications for policy.

Such broad research questions necessitate a multi-disciplinary team, and the highest quality data and skills in quantitative analysis to enable population-level causal inference which can inform policy and improve the public understanding of social change. The MiSoC team will involve economists, sociologists, demographers, social policy researchers, computer scientists and statisticians based in four departments of the University of Essex and one at the University of Bristol. The team of 11 investigators includes 7 women, and has a median age of 44, showing our commitment to gender equality, and in developing senior research leadership for the new generation. We are also committed to developing the next generation of social scientists: in addition to 4 named early career researchers, the Centre will have nine 2-year posts for post-doctoral researchers, two years of pre-doctoral level training posts, and six PhD studentships. MiSoC is hosted by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex, which was awarded a Queen's Anniversary Prize in 2017 for its "authoritative social and economic research to inform the policies of governments for the improvement of people's lives", an award which recognises the success of MiSoC over at least two decades.

The research is organised into four Strands, with 39 projects. Strand 1 is motivated by the need to understand the factors affecting the production of a wide range of skills in childhood and adolescence, how they are rewarded in the labour market, and how they can be enhanced to promote social mobility and cohesion. Strand 2 will improve our understanding of why families are changing, and the implications of these for economic and health inequalities. Strand 3 will explore intergenerational transmission and exchange in a diverse society, using new multigenerational and transnational data sources. Our programme of methodological work (in machine learning in social science; measurement; and new big data sources) in Strand 4 reflects that methodological excellence is crucial to high-quality research and providing robust evidence for policy; it will form one of the pillars of the training and capacity building activities we carry out for the UK social science community.

The programme will make a major contribution to the ESRC's research priorities of productivity (which depends on the accumulation of skills amongst young adults); mental health; housing; and innovation in health and social care. It is critical to understanding social mobility and the social distribution of life chances, through the analysis of inter-generational transmission from parents to children within the family, the evolution of human and social capital over the life course, and the processes that generate and maintain social inequalities, and it also has considerable implications for governments and other policy actors, through the design of the welfare state.

Planned Impact

MiSoC's 2019-24 research programme is directly relevant to the ESRC's research priorities of productivity and skills acquisition, mental health, housing and health and social care. We will be contributing a significant new body of evidence to the national debates on issues such as gender equality, poverty, migration after Brexit, education spending and welfare reform. Our new studies will provide vital insights and understanding for policy makers, practitioners, think tanks, charities, business and industry, as well as practitioners and leaders within education, health care and organisations supporting people at a local level, the media and the general public. We will also aim to increase public understanding of the substantive issues in our programme, but also about the value of quantitative social science in general.

All our research is of interest to organisations seeking to understand the processes that generate and maintain social inequalities, and the determinants of the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage.

Strand 1 of our research programme will provide important new evidence to inform policy on skills development in our future workforce, crucial to the success of the UK Industrial Strategy and the idea of inclusive growth. We believe this will provide much-needed insights for parents, education providers at all levels, universities and employers, health care providers (through the link with mental health) as well as local and national governments, on how they can best support young people to make productive contributions to society.

Strand 2 will generate evidence of use to policy makers and other organisations aiming to understand and reduce inequalities in the UK by gender, income and socio-economic position, and will provide specific findings of benefit to organisations supporting working parents, single mothers, the role of fathers in early childhood development, and those interested in welfare reform, housing policy, family policy and family justice.

Strand 3 of our research programme will generate evidence for policy makers and other organisations interested in understanding the consequences of a population that is ageing but also growing more unequal, and those working towards reducing ethnic inequalities in the UK, and the way that immigrants to the UK experience disadvantage. Specific findings will have major implications for social care, welfare support, and how policies and services to support families, older generations and migrant communities could be improved. We will also provide factual evidence for the national discussion on what these changes mean.

Our cross-cutting methodological work in Strand 4 will be of direct benefit to researchers outside academia, and our capacity building activities will be targeting them as well as academics.

We will be working with many partner organisations in designing specific research questions and in the dissemination and promotion of our findings. We have already established key contacts in government departments such as the DWP, HM Treasury, the Home Office, Department of Health and Department for Education, the Cabinet Office as well as the National Audit Office, the Equality Challenge Unit, the Office for Students and the Office of the Children's Commissioner. We are already working closely to share our research with OFSTED, the Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum, the Early Intervention Foundation, the Social Mobility Commission, OECD and Public Health England, Child Poverty Action Group, Gingerbread, the Resolution Foundation, the IPPR, Policy Exchange and TUC, among many others specific to the nature of the findings. Our deep connections within these organisations will provide genuine opportunities to put our findings to the forefront of evidence calls and give our research expertise the right exposure to influence and inform both political and practical change as well as public discourse and debate.


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