Sofa surfers and shed dwellers: new living arrangements and household surveys in the UK and France

Ernestina E. Coast, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
Sara Randall, University College London
Alex Fanghanel, University College London
Eva Lelièvre, Institut National d'Études Démographiques (INED)
Sadio Ba-Gning, Institut National d'Études Démographiques (INED)

Data collection practicalities and the need for meaningful data analysis require a social unit to be defined. The ‘household’ is almost universally used as this unit of survey enumeration. Despite apparent harmonisation, European countries have different interpretations of the definition of private household and there is a clear lack of harmonisation both between surveys and countries. This study aims understand the implications of harmonizing definitions of the ‘household’ for survey data to represent the realities of new and emergent living arrangements in Europe. We explore which new forms of living arrangements and households are captured and / or represented in household surveys and censuses in the UK and France. We use 2 research: in-depth semi-structured interviews with informants involved in the design and production of household surveys and censuses; and, case study households (n=60) in the UK and France, producing qualitative data on living arrangements. We find considerable variation in the extent to which understanding of household meshes with data collected. We identify population sub-groups that are likely to be poorly captured and represented by household surveys, including: people who live temporarily, often as a result of a critical change (eg:divorce), with others (“sofa surfers”); children who are cared for by multiple households; those living in private rented tenancy accommodation or in unofficial accommodation (eg: garden sheds); dual earner couples who live apart during the working week; retired couples living separately each one in their dwelling house; young adults who still live at home with their parents; and, illegal migrants (without residence permit). We illustrate using detailed case studies drawn from our primary fieldwork. Our key informant interviews also point towards ways in which the increasing administration of household surveys using technology (eg: internet-based) might lead to further exclusion of some population sub-groups, or poor information being collected from them.

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Presented in Session 38: Living arrangements and co-residence