Can we improve the survey representation of non-resident parents...

... and collect robust data on reasons for separation?

The Nuffield-funded study Understanding the lives of separating and separated families in the UK concluded that a lack of data on the lives of separating and separated families is hindering effective policymaking for children and families. The report from the study concluded that, theoretically, a number of the existing longitudinal surveys could be enhanced, with  some potential enhancements to Understanding Society (the UK Household Longitudinal Survey – UKHLS) being particularly beneficial in helping to meet some of the evidence gaps.  This new study represents a first, welcome step to testing out some potential enhancements to the UKHLS.

The aim of the study is to assess options for improving the representation of non-resident parents (NRPs) in the survey. The under-representation of NRPs in surveys has long hindered research on family separation, leaving key evidence gaps for those making policy and practice decisions related to separation, including (but not restricted to) issues around child support, child arrangements, welfare benefits and housing. The study team devised a new set of questions aimed at identifying more, and a more representative sample, of NRPs than achieved previously, either within the UKHLS or other UK surveys. These questions are being included in Wave 10 of the UKHLS Innovation Panel, alongside the existing UKHLS questions used to identify NRPs.  This will allow the team to compare the prevalence and profile of NRPs identified by each method. The team are also testing questions they hope will fill a second key evidence gap, namely how the reasons for separation – and who instigates it – affect post-separation trajectories and outcomes.

The preliminary data from the IP is expected by December 2017. The Nuffield Foundation is funding the team to undertake analysis of the data (the fieldwork costs are covered by a UKHLS grant). The analysis will include testing for differences by survey mode (face-to-face interview or web self-completion), length of time in the Panel, and time since separation.

The findings will be relevant to survey methodologists and the wider policy and practice communities concerned with the quality of evidence collected about family separation.

Project details


Caroline Bryson, Bryson Purdon Social Research

Funding programme

Children and Families

Grant amount and duration


January 2018 - August 2018