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ONS Internship: Life Expectancy Assignment by Socioeconomic Position

August 7, 2014

Office for National Statistics (ONS)

Organisation/ department background

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the UK’s largest independent producer of official statistics and is the recognised national statistical institute for the UK. It is responsible for collecting and publishing statistics related to the economy, population and society at national, regional and local levels. It also conducts the census in England and Wales every ten years. ONS plays a leading role in national and international good practice in the production of official statistics. It is the executive office of the UK Statistics Authority and although they are separate, they are still closely related.

Based in Newport, the Public Policy Analysis Division produces cross-cutting and flexible analysis to respond to emerging analytical priorities. Our analysis adds value, insight, comparability and context to ONS’ outputs to help the user. 

Project brief

The Office for National Statistics is offering one ESRC internship to investigate the impact on life expectancy by socioeconomic position of different methods of assigning class membership using the ONS Longitudinal Study for the quinquennial. The project will last for six months although some flexibility in duration may be possible. The applicant will be part of the health analysis team that will provide support and direction.

The standard approach to assigning class for was to classify sample members on entry to the study, after Hattersley (1997). The main rationale for assigning class at the earliest possible point after entry to the study is that, in a prospective study, it is important that the assignment of class is not influenced by the fact of death or survival. An additional benefit is that the longer the period of follow up, the less prevalent are health selection effects.

One drawback to this approach is that for some, health careers will not have had time to mature at the time of assignment and therefore may distort the association between health outcome and socioeconomic position.

The principal aim of the study will be to compare estimates of life expectancy at birth based on earliest and latest time point on which socioeconomic position was measured. This will inform the influence of future occupation and career transition on health outcome.

There are also two supplementary aims:

  • To measure life expectancy by socioeconomic position based on an assignment of the most advantaged of their own and their spouse’s class, and for children by the most advantaged of their father’s and mother’s class. This ‘combined’ approach is based on a concept of Erikson (1984) which argues that it is the material circumstances of the household rather than the specific occupation of that matters most to health outcome.
  • To examine the influence of area deprivation on within class life expectancy to compare and contrast with estimates based on own and most advantaged assignment methods.

The post graduate student will compile an ONS Longitudinal Study application specifying the objectives of the research: This will include

  • Specifying a study population
  • Interrogating the LS Data Dictionary to determine tables and variables required and any derived variables needed to be created
  • Working with LS microdata in the secure vml  setting at ONS
  • Developing scripts for assignment procedures
  • Developing scripts to run life expectancy calculations
  • Compare and constrast life expectancy estimates based on different assignment rules (easliest/latest time point socioeconomic position recorded; own/combined approach)
  • Assess within class differences by measures of household and area disadvantage
  • Write journal article for publication, prepare bulletin for publication on ONS website using digital publishing enhancements
  • Presentation at relevant conference such as BSPS, Society of Social Medicine, REVES

Student specification

The following skills will be required for this internship:

  • Good analytical and statistical skills
  • Some knowledge/experience of health inequalities research, and ideally Census and life events data
  • Good communication skills, both written and verbal
  • Ability to work as part of a team
  • Good organisational skills and a proven ability to deliver high quality outcomes 

The post will be based at the ONS office in Newport, South Wales. 

Start date of Internship

No later than early January 2015, ideally October 2014. 


Security clearance at an appropriate level to work with ONS Longitudinal Study data such as an application for approved research license. 


Any queries to ONS should be addressed to chris.white@ons.gov.uk