You may have seen recent media coverage on the employment prospects of young people in Scotland from different social backgrounds.

What you might not have realised is that this piece of research – and many others – relies on the Scottish Longitudinal Study in which National Records of Scotland is a partner.

The Scottish Longitudinal Study (SLS) is a valuable social research dataset that is the result of a collaboration between National Records of Scotland and the Universities of Edinburgh and St. Andrews. It links data from National Records Scotland (NRS) (including Census from 1991, 2001 and 2011) and the National Health Service Information Services Division.

So what does the SLS do? The SLS allows the examination of the trajectory of the population of Scotland over a period of time. This means that causes and effects can be investigated, as we have data on the population over time, so what has happened in the 90’s and 00’s will be reflected in data for 2011 census for example. By contrast, a survey which only uses a small portion of the population, for example the sort that might be answered over the phone, or by completing a questionnaire, can only demonstrate a correlation between variables.

The SLS is a sample of 5.3% of the Scottish population and covers around 270,000 members and 505,000 members of their household, using anonymised census and administrative data for research. This gives us a sample which reflects the whole of the people of Scotland. The SLS allows the impact of events or changes in policy on people’s lives to be assessed and can provide evidence for future policy decisions.

The SLS has a real impact on research and policymaking. Our website lists all the outputs of research undertaken using SLS data.  Over 100 projects have been approved since the project started releasing data to researchers in 2007.  The project began in 2002, but constructing the dataset was so complex it took five years until it was ready to release to researchers. Recent outputs have examined, for example, the relationship between parental circumstances and employment outcomes for their children, the impact that certain “accelerator” regions have on job mobility, and ways of measuring the experience of aging in Scotland.

The work of the SLS provides a uniquely Scottish dataset, that is widely used and considered to be one of the most comprehensive of its kind. The outputs of the research have had international and national impact. We are committed to enhancing the use of this dataset, and investigating the possibilities of safely and securely linking other administrative datasets to further augment this prized research resource.

We take the security of the data we hold very seriously. The data is potentially sensitive so there is strenuous scrutiny of researchers who wish to use it. They must demonstrate the relevance and originality of their work, the public benefit that will occur and consider the privacy impacts.  All researchers are certified in handling sensitive information. The application is considered by a research board of experts from both NRS and academia and may be rejected if it does not meet SLS requirements.  If the application is cleared, then access to the data is provide within the secured environment of NRS, on a network that is isolated completely from the internet and the outside world. Any research that is published, is scrutinised to ensure that the confidentiality of sample members is preserved.

Robin Frost, Project Manager


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