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FAQs for the Large Government Surveys

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					Frequently Asked Questions
          ESDS Government
             Author:           V.Higgins
                        Updated by Lee
                        Williamson and
                              V. Higgins

             Version:              17.0

             Date:        30 April 2007
Frequently Asked Questions: ESDS Government
ESDS Government home1

1. What are the large-scale government surveys?
2. Who can obtain survey data?
3. How much will it cost?
4. How do I gain access to the survey data?
5. What formats are the data available in?
6. Are there any restrictions on the use of the survey data?
7. What information is available in the surveys?
8. Can I order publications and obtain statistics?
9. What can I expect of the ESDS Government Data Service?
10. Who can use ESDS Government services?
11. How do I get help if I am stuck?
12. Where can I get the large-scale government survey questionnaires from?
13. What are missing values?
14. Should I include missing values in my analysis?
15. Why am I not getting the same numbers in my analysis as the published
results?
16. What is the ILO definition of unemployment?
17. Which years were missed from the GHS?
18. Why do we weight data?
19. Why are response rates decreasing on surveys?
20. Who are the non-responders in surveys?
21. How do I use SPSS and STATA?
22. Are there are training courses on how to use SPSS and STATA?
23. What is the Continuous Population Survey?
24. Can I use the data for teaching?
25. I want to carry out a time-series analysis but some of the variables have
changed over time. Are there any variables that are consistent over time?
26. What is the Integrated Household Survey? (formerly Continuous Population
Survey)
27. How can I find out who has been researching using a specific survey?
28. What are the ESDS Government user meetings and are they for me?
29. What is a special licence and special licence data?
30. What is the new GHS(L)?
31. When did the QLFS shift from seasonal quarters to calendar quarters?

Labour Force Survey FAQs
Northern Ireland Labour Force Survey FAQs
General Household Survey FAQs
Continuous Household Survey FAQs
Family Expenditure Survey FAQs
Northern Ireland Family Expenditure Survey FAQs
National Food Survey/Expenditure and Food Survey FAQs
Family Resources Survey FAQs
Omnibus Survey FAQs
Survey of English Housing FAQs
Health Survey for England FAQs
Welsh Health Survey FAQs
Scottish Health Survey FAQs
British Crime Survey FAQs
Scottish Crime Survey FAQs
British Social Attitudes FAQs
Scottish Social Attitudes FAQs
Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey FAQS
Young People’s Social Attitudes Survey FAQs
National Travel Survey FAQs
Time Use Survey FAQs

1
    www.esds.ac.uk/government
1. What are the large-scale government surveys?
The large-scale government surveys are large datasets collected either by the
Office for National Statistics2 or other agencies, such as the National Centre for
Social Research3. The surveys are principally designed for government
information purposes but are available to researchers for secondary analysis.
They are key data sources for social scientists and include surveys such as the
Labour Force Survey, General Household Survey, Family Resources Survey and
Expenditure and Food Survey. A full list of the surveys covered by the ESDS
Government Data Service is available from the survey pages4 of the ESDS
Government web site. You can find full descriptions of the surveys, together with
documentation, on the UK Data Archive (UKDA)5 web site - you will need to
search for the survey on the homepage or follow the link from Major Studies to
the survey you are interested in. There are other large-scale government surveys
which are not covered by ESDS Government but are available from the general
ESDS service.

2. Who can obtain survey data?
Researchers, students and teachers from all fields and types of organisation may
register with the Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS) and obtain survey
data. However, some datasets may have restrictions on access. For example,
commercial usage may be restricted, permission may be required from the
depositor or publications may need to be vetted by the sponsoring organisation.

3. How much will it cost?
All users requiring data for non-commercial purposes can download data free of
charge. Where data is required for commercial purposes there is a per study
number fee of £500. For all CD orders there is a flat media fee of £7.50, a per
study number handling fee of £2.50 and a flat rate postage and packing fee (£3
in the UK, £4 rest of EU, £5 rest of world). All packages are sent first class via
Royal Mail. See Charges6 on the UKDA web site.

4. How do I gain access to the survey data or explore it online?
To access survey data, all users must Login/register with the Economic and Social
Data Service (ESDS). Information about obtaining data from the UK Data Archive
(UKDA) can be found on Ordering data on the UKDA web site.

Registered users can download/order a large and increasing number of datasets
direct from the UKDA web site (usually in SPSS, STATA or tab-delimited formats)
via its online catalogue record and via the download/order section of the Major
Studies web pages.

An increasing number of datasets are also available to most registered users in
the Nesstar system, which will allow you to explore the data online and to do
basic exploratory analysis before choosing to download all, or a subset, of the
data.

5. What formats are the data available in?
Most datasets are available in SPSS, STATA and tab delimited formats (suitable
for use in Excel) and can also be converted to other formats such as SAS. Other
systems, including Nesstar,7 may also provide additional formats, such as
Statistica, DIF (suitable for use in Excel), NSDStat and Dbase.

6. Are there restrictions on the use of the survey data?



2
    www.statistics.gov.uk
3
    www.natcen.ac.uk/
4
    www.esds.ac.uk/Government/surveys
5
    www.data-archive.ac.uk
6
    www.data-archive.ac.uk/orderingData/Charges.asp
7
    http://nesstar.esds.ac.uk/webview/index.jsp
Restrictions on the use of the surveys are outlined in the End User Licence8 that
all users sign when registering for an ESDS account. In particular there is a
fundamental restriction on the confidentiality of data. Users should not attempt to
use the data to deliberately compromise the confidentiality of individuals or
households and are required to abide by the current Data Protection Act. This
agreement also covers requirements for citation of publications and safeguarding
of data. Sharing Data9 with colleagues, other researchers or students must
always be authorised by ESDS. Certain datasets may also require depositor
permission. Some datasets which pose a higher risk of disclosure require a
Special Licence (SL). This licence has additional conditions. For example, the SL
requires the signature(s) of the researcher(s) and the institution with
responsibility for the researcher. It also needs the explicit permission of the data
owner to release the data to the researcher(s). See FAQ 29 for more detail on
special licences.

7. What information is available in the surveys?
A wide variety of information is available from the surveys. Most surveys cover a
specific topic, for example the Labour Force Survey (LFS) collects detailed data on
economic activity and the Health Survey for England (HSE) collects information
about the nation’s health and the number of people with specified health
conditions among other things. In addition, each survey asks a number of core
questions such as sex, age, ethnic group, housing tenure. The ESDS Government
and Question Bank web sites give full descriptions of the surveys. There is also
work on the harmonisation of concepts and questions by ONS and on derived
variables over time by ESDS Government.

8. Can I order publications and obtain statistics?
The Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS) is not able to supply copies of
publications (other than User Guides accompanying the data). However, the
ESDS Government web pages contain a searchable publications database which
cites the ESDS Government surveys. You can search on keywords such as
'employment' and can specify whether you want to search on all the supported
surveys or specific surveys. Results can be ordered by date or author. In addition,
within each specific survey page the green box titled ‘links’ generally provides
links to recent reports for that survey.

ESDS does not typically supply tailor-made statistics, although it will undertake
certain consultancies at cost. A number of datasets are also available to most
registered users to analyse, subset and download online via the Nesstar service,
where basic frequency counts are freely available to all users.


9. What can I expect of the ESDS Government Data Service?
ESDS Government, led by CCSR10, aims to exchange information between users
and producers, enlarge the user base and provide user support. This includes:

        a helpdesk service operated by email (govsurveys@esds.ac.uk) and
         telephone +44 (0)161 275 1980

        a JISCmail list for parties interested in the large government surveys, for
         discussion and to receive updates. To join the list, you simply need to
         either go to the ESDS-govsurveys JISCmail11 web site or alternatively you
         can send an email to listserv@jiscmail.ac.uk with the following text:
         subscribe esds-govsurveys firstname secondname

        web-based Frequently Asked Questions

8
    www.esds.ac.uk/aandp/access/licence.asp
9
  www.data-archive.ac.uk/orderingData/sharingData.asp
10
   www.ccsr.ac.uk/
11
   www.jiscmail.ac.uk/lists/ESDS-GOVSURVEYS.html
         a twice-yearly newsletter

         dedicated survey pages

         products that provide easy routes through the complex documentation of
          the government surveys such as introductory guides and indexes of
          common variables

         workshops, conferences and courses on: the government datasets and
          their potential; key topics of interest; specific statistical packages,
          particularly SPSS and STATA; methods of statistical analysis; some of the
          unique aspects of the datasets; topic-related online course materials

         a range of teaching datasets

         a searchable database of publications which cite the government surveys

Further information, including the list of datasets supported by the service, can
be found on the ESDS web site12.


10. Who can use ESDS Government services?
ESDS Government is funded by the ESRC and the Joint Information Systems
Committee to support UK academic users of the large-scale government surveys.
However, non-academic users and overseas academics have access to all our
materials, such as the SPSS guide, the newsletter, all other online documents and
are very welcome to attend the workshops and events we organise. ESDS
Government will also provide quick answers to helpdesk queries from non-
academics and overseas academics. However, lengthy helpdesk queries requiring
one-to-one attention can only be provided to UK academics.


11. How do I get help if I am stuck?
You can email us at govsurveys@esds.ac.uk or telephone us on
+44 (0)161-275-1980.


12. Where can I get the large-scale government survey questionnaires
from?
Questionnaires and other survey documentation can be found on the UKDA13 web
site (you do not have to be registered to use this facility). The Question Bank14
based at the University of Surrey also provides free online questionnaire and
related material, e.g. diaries, for most of the large-scale government surveys
from 1991 onwards. Often questionnaires can be found in the back of published
reports. If you cannot find the questionnaire you require email us at
govsurveys@esds.ac.uk or telephone us on +44 (0)161-275-1980.


13. What are missing values?
Missing values are categories in variables for which there are not valid responses.
Missing values are specified for a number of reasons and usually have specific
codes within the large-scale government surveys. Data can be specified as
missing for the following reasons:

The question does not apply to the respondent (DNA). For example someone who
said that they were a non-smoker would not be asked the question ‘How many
cigarettes do you smoke on average per week?’. DNA is often coded –9 or 99.



12
     www.esds.ac.uk/Government/overview.asp
13
     www.data-archive.ac.uk
14
     qb.soc.surrey.ac.uk
The respondent has simply not given an answer (NA). This is often coded –8 or
98.

Other reasons such as proxy response, refused entire section and so on. These
are often coded as other values such as –6 and –7.

However, you should check the survey documentation rather than assuming that
the codes given above are correct.


14. Should I include missing values in my analysis?
You should never include missing values coded as DNA (see FAQ 12 above)
because the question is not relevant to these cases. You may or may not want to
include other missing values such as NA (see FAQ 12 above). Care should be
taken when excluding missing values if they account for a large proportion of the
answers because it could lead to the misinterpretation of results. The fact that a
large proportion of respondents did not answer the question may be an
interesting finding in itself. For example:

 Have you ever used an illicit drug?
 Response   N      Missing answers        Missing answers
                   included (%)           excluded (%)
 Yes        50     10%                    25%
 No         150    30%                    75%
 NA         300    60%                    -

If missing answers are included then you report that 60% of respondents chose
not to answer this question. However, if missing answers are excluded you report
that 75% of respondents have never used an illicit drug. These two findings have
very different implications.


15. Why am I not getting the same numbers in my analysis as the
published results?
You may not always get exactly the same numbers as the published results
because of small things you may have done differently in your data preparation.
However, one would expect your results to be very similar to the published
results. If your findings are significantly different there could be a number of
explanations:

• you may not be comparing the same variables
• you may not have dealt with missing values in the same way as the published
results
• there may be a filter variable to be applied (a filter variable is used where
analysis is performed on a subset of the data, for example, the analysis may have
been run selected ages, such as the working aged population only).
• there may be a weighting variable to be applied.


16. What is the ILO definition of unemployment?
Most of the large-scale government surveys use definitions of employment,
unemployment and economic activity and inactivity that have been internationally
agreed by the ILO (International Labour Organisation). To be unemployed,
according to the ILO definition you must be: not in employment but available to
start within two weeks, and have either looked for work in the last 4 weeks or
waiting to start a new job. ILO employment includes those who are in paid work
either as an employee or self-employed and those on a government-supported
training scheme. For more information see ONS harmonisation web site15.




15
     www.statistics.gov.uk/harmony/document.asp
17. Which years were missed from the GHS?
The General Household Survey has been carried out annually since 1971, with the
exception of two years: 1997 (when it was being reviewed) and 1999 (when it
was being re-developed). In 2005 the GHS(L) was introduced – see FAQ 30 for
more information.


18. Why do we weight data?
It is common for social surveys to use some form of weighting; this is for a
number of reasons:
 to correct for bias caused by particular groups in the population not
     responding to the survey. This is called non-response weighting and often
     uses figures from the census to provide a correct population distribution, for
     example in the 2001 General Household Survey
 to remove bias caused by the use of different selection probabilities. For
     example, in surveys where only one adult per household is interviewed, those
     living in households with more than one adult will have a lower probability (or
     less of a chance) of being selected than those adults living on their own. The
     2000 British Crime Survey and the 2001 British Social Attitudes Survey both
     use this type of weighting
 to make sure that the proportions of people in each age group, sex and
     region, for example, are the same in the sample as they are in the whole
     population. This is called calibration weighting (or population based
     weighting)
 to gross the survey to population totals, so you can say how many people in
     the UK watch TV every day for example, rather than just what proportion (or
     %). This is called grossing and is used in the Labour Force Survey

In all such cases, the samples do not accurately reflect the general population.
The purpose of weighting is to adjust the sample so that the sample profile on
key variables reflects that of the population. Weighting involves statistically
increasing or decreasing the numbers of cases with particular characteristics so
that the proportion of cases in the sample is adjusted to the population
proportion. For more detailed information on weighting please refer to the
Weighting the Social Surveys guide on the ESDS Government website16.


19. Why are response rates decreasing on surveys?
Non-contact with the sampled respondent and refusal to participate are the two
reasons why response rates have fallen across surveys in recent years. Tactics
used by survey organisations, such as calling more frequently and at times of the
day when people are more likely to be at home, help to reduce non-contact rates.
However, the increase in refusal to participate is more difficult. Much of the
increase in refusals seems to be attributable to increased reluctance among
members of the public to take part in surveys. These general attitudes are hard
to change. Instead survey organisations concentrate on the aspects they have
some control over, namely how they approach individuals, how interviewers
introduce themselves on the doorstep, and how individuals might be persuaded to
participate.


20. Who are the non-responders in surveys?
In practice, relatively little is known about the characteristics of non-responders.
On most surveys the characteristics of non-respondents are ‘inferred’ by
comparing the survey profile with the population profile derived from official
statistics such as the Census. But, in other than census years, this tends to
restrict us to comparisons of the age and sex profile. These comparisons typically
demonstrate that young men are disproportionately missing from surveys; what
they don’t show is whether the missing young men have different characteristics
to the responding young men. Other studies have shown that surveys typically
under-represent those with lower educational qualifications, adults without

16
     www.esds.ac.uk/government/resources/statguides.asp
dependent children, and those living in London. Knowing about the characteristics
of non-respondents allows survey researchers to reduce bias by applying non-
response weights to the data. See FAQ 17 for more details on non-response
weights.


21. How do I use SPSS and STATA?
ESDS Government has written introductory guides to using SPSS and STATA.
These can be found on the resources page17 of the ESDS web site.


22. Are there are training courses on how to use SPSS and STATA?
The Cathie Marsh Centre for Census and Survey Research (CCSR) at the
University of Manchester regularly hold short course on SPSS and STATA at
varying levels (introduction, advanced etc). The CCSR web site18 holds the
information on the short courses, including how to apply for a bursary.

23. What is the Continuous Population Survey?
The Continuous Population Survey (CPS) is now known as the Integrated
Household Survey (IHS). See FAQ 26 for details.


24. Can I use the data for teaching?
The datasets can be useful resources for teaching. You can use the datasets for
hands-on exercises in methods courses such as questionnaire design or statistics.
ESDS Government have created four teaching datasets for this purpose using the
Labour Force Survey, British Crime Survey, Health Survey for England and the
General Household Survey (social capital teaching dataset). If you wish to use
one of the teaching datasets or any of the ESDS Government datasets with your
students as part of a taught course you should read the information on Sharing
Data19 on the UK Data Archive web site.

You could also use the datasets as research design examples in methods lectures
or alternatively you may wish to use the data for substantive courses, for
example if you wanted to show that certain ethnic minorities have high
unemployment rates you could use the data yourself to illustrate this or use
existing exemplars from published research.


25. I want to carry out a time-series analysis but some of the variables
have changed over time. Are there any variables that are consistent over
time?
ESDS Government has carried out some work to document information about the
consistency of key variables over time on the General Household Survey and
Labour Force Survey, and to provide syntax to derive consistent variables. The
initial work is available from the ESDS Government web site20 and other variables
will be added from time to time. Additionally, a policy of harmonisation since the
early 1990s has greatly increased the consistency of definitions and question
wording across key variables (but not all variables) on the main government
surveys - for more information see the ONS harmonisation web site21.

26. What is the Integrated Household Survey? (formerly Continuous
Population Survey)
Fieldwork for the Integrated Household Survey (IHS) (formerly the Continuous
Population Survey (CPS)) is proposed to begin in January 2008. The design
involves the integration of the household surveys on which the Office for National


17
  www.esds.ac.uk/government/resources/
18
   www.ccsr.ac.uk/courses/
19
   www.data-archive.ac.uk/orderingData/sharingData.asp
20
   www.esds.ac.uk/government/dv/
21
     www.statistics.gov.uk/harmony/document.asp
Statistics (ONS) leads into one IHS (CPS). The surveys included for integration
are:

•   Labour Force Survey (LFS) and associated boosts (APS)
•   General Household Survey (GHS)
•   Expenditure and Food Survey (EFS)
•   Omnibus Survey (OMN)

Two consultation meetings on the IHS (CPS) took place in January 2006 and
March 2007 at the Royal Statistical Society, London. These meetings provided
opportunities to find out the latest developments from ONS. They also provided
opportunities to ensure that users needs were heard and considered. The content
of the core outputs and each interview combination were discussed among other
things. Slides from the meeting are available on the Past Events web pages. More
information about the IHS is available from the IHS page on the ESDS
Government web site.

27. How can I find out who has been researching using a specific survey?
To find out who has recently registered to use a survey, the first place to check is
the green ‘Registered Uses’ box within each specific survey page on the ESDS
Government website. Recently when registering with the UKDA for the use of
data there is an option to make the registration of that usage, including details of
any project surrounding it, widely available.

It may also be useful to do a search on the specific survey name in the ESDS
Government publications database.

Alternatively, if you have a particular research area/question and are interested
in making contact with other researchers it may be useful to join a JISC mailing
list, such as the ESDS Government JISCmail list. Other than the ESDS
Government lists, there are also the Labour Market Statistics User Group
JISCmail list, Health Statistics User Group JISCmail List and British Crime Survey
JISCmail list.

User meetings on a specific survey or research topic can also be a helpful way to
find out current research examples, see ESDS Government events for
forthcoming user survey/topic meetings and past events for presentation sides
from previous events. For more information on user meetings see FAQ 28.

28. What are the ESDS Government user meetings and are they for me?
ESDS Government organises a number of user meetings each year, these are:

•   General Household Survey User Meeting
•   Labour Force Survey User Meeting
•   Health Survey's User Meeting
•   British Crime Survey User Meeting
•   Family Resources Survey User Meeting

These are days which allow users to meet data producers. The days take a fairly
standard format in which the morning consists of presentations by the data
producers and provides information on news and developments on the surveys,
while the afternoon is led by users in researchers describe new or recent work
being done with the data. The meetings are friendly, informal and open to all
users or potential users of the surveys. Previous programmes and slides are
available at from the past events section on the ESDS Government website.

These meetings are part of a wider range of events organised by ESDS
Government, see the events web page for more information. If you would like to
be kept informed of all the latest events, please subscribe to the ESDS
Government JISCmail list.

29. What is a special licence and special licence data?
When you require access to social survey microdata, for example, the data held
at the UK Data Archive (UKDA), this requires registration, agreement to the End
User Licence (EUL) and the registration of usage details.

A Special Licence (SL) is used for special licence data; this is data which pose a
higher risk of disclosure meaning the licence has additional conditions. For
example, the SL requires the signature(s) of the researcher(s) and the institution
with responsibility for the researcher. It also needs the explicit permission of the
data owner to release the data to the researcher(s).

SL applicants are screened by UKDA and the data depositors. Data are only
provided to those researchers who can justify their need for the data for
statistical research purposes and agree to meet the terms of the SL.

The first ONS social surveys to trial this new access initiative are the Annual
Population Survey (APS) and the QLFS (from March-May 2005), but it is planned
to extend the special licences to other surveys in due course.

The QLFS special licence version contains the same content as the QLFS end user
file but has additional geographical information at local authority level. A list of
the variables available in each file is available in an Excel file on the ESDS
Government web site.

The source for this FAQ originates from Special Licence: new arrangements for
access to social survey microdata on the ESDS web site.

30. What is the new GHS(L)?
The 2005-2006 GHS fieldwork is the first to be undertaken under a new
longitudinal survey design. The new design is also accompanied by a slight
change in substantive emphasis, which leans towards a greater range of
questions on social exclusion. The changes to the GHS aim to satisfy new EU
requirements to produce comparable data from a Survey of Income and Living
Conditions (EU-SILC). For more information, go to the slides from the 2006 GHS
User Meeting.

31. When did the QLFS shift from seasonal quarters to calendar quarters?
In accordance with EU regulations, the LFS moved from seasonal (spring,
summer, autumn, winter) quarters to calendar quarters (January-March, April-
June, July-September, October-December) in 2006. The last seasonal quarter
dataset issued was the Quarterly Labour Force Survey, December 2005 -
February 2006 (SN 5356) and the first calendar quarter dataset was the
Quarterly Labour Force Survey, January - March, 2006 (SN 5369). Users should
note that there is some overlap between these two datasets. Further information
on the seasonal to calendar quarter change and its impact on LFS data may be
found in the following online article:
Madouros, V. (2006) Impact of the LFS switch from seasonal to calendar
quarters: an overview of the switch of the LFS to calendar quarters and the
potential effects of this change on users, London: ONS.


Updates
The FAQs are regularly updated; the latest version is always available in HTML
from the ESDS Government web pages22. There are also PDF23 and Word24
versions available for download.
This version was last modified on 30 April 2007
ESDS Government home25



22
     www.esds.ac.uk/government/faq
23
     www.esds.ac.uk/government/faq/faq.pdf
24
     www.esds.ac.uk/government/faq/faq.doc
25
     www.esds.ac.uk/government
                                  ESDS Government
                  Economic and Social Data Service
Cathie Marsh Centre for Census and Survey Research
                           University of Manchester
                               Manchester M13 9PL

                     Email: govsurveys@esds.ac.uk
                          Tel: +44 (0)161 275 1980
                                Fax: 0161 275 4722
                     www.esds.ac.uk/government

				
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Description: FAQs for the Large Government Surveys