social surveya comprehensive collection of data and information about people living in a specific area or administrative unit.
Social surveys aim to collect a great deal of data about individuals and their lifestyles by means of QUESTIONNAIRES and other QUANTITATIVE RESEARCH TECHNIQUES. They are undertaken for administrative as well as sociological purposes (see also MARKET RESEARCH).
In Britain, the first comprehensive social survey was probably the Domesday Book. The national CENSUSES held every ten years since 1801 can be regarded as national social surveys. The first major social surveys undertaken in the UK are generally considered to be those of Booth and Rowntree who looked at poverty in 19th-century London and York.
Today a number of social surveys are conducted on a regular basis by both private institutions and government departments. The British Social Attitudes Survey (BSAS) dates from 1983, and each year since 1971 the Home Office has undertaken a General Household Survey (GHS) (see Dale et al., 1988).
Although social surveys are often not explicitly sociological in orientation, they do provide the sociologist with a rich source of secondary data for the analysis of many sociological questions. For example, Booth's study of poverty in 19th-century London provides the historical sociologist with a considerable amount of data on life in that period, and the GHS provides the researcher with data on subjects as diverse as marriage and fertility patterns, employment and leisure.