What is the British Population Survey (BPS)?

The British Population Survey (BPS) is a survey of household income and shopping habits collected by face-to-face interviews. But to describe it so briefly is to do it a disservice given the depth of valuable information it can provide to help understand demographic groups and, by extension, your customers or audience. Here, we take a look at the BPS in detail, what exactly it is made from and how its data can be usefully applied by businesses and public organisations.

The strengths of BPS data

The British Population Survey (BPS) has been run since 2008 by DataTalk Research Limited. It is built around a series of face-to-face interviews conducted on an ongoing basis. Typically between 6,000 and 8,000 surveys are conducted each month, collecting data from more than 80,000 individuals over the course of a year. The two key points to emphasise here are that:

  1. They are face-to-face interviews, making the results relevant for both on and offline activity, as opposed to online surveys that can only gather data from active web users.
  2. The survey is ongoing, setting it apart from snapshot data like the census, which only takes place around every 10 years. This also allows new questions to be fed into the survey as they become relevant.

As such, the BPS provides a perfect tool to keep your demographic data up-to-date and relevant across the whole spectrum of society.

A lady taking part in a face-to-face survey.

The data collected by the BPS

As you’d expect from face-to-face interviews, the depth of data collected is impressive and at the time of writing (September 2020) includes the following variables (in the BPS’ own terms):

  • Family: gender, age group, numeric age, lifestage, ethnic origin, marital status, parent of children, parental status, child maintenance, number in household, presence of children in household, number of children in household, age of children in household.
  • Geography: country, standard region 4, standard region 11, urban/rural, postcode area, unit postcode.
  • Economics: social grade, qualification level, working status of respondent, household income, chief income earner (CIE), working status of CIE, home tenure, main shopper, main supermarket, debit card/s, credit card/s.
  • Media: daily newspaper, Sunday newspaper, TV station most watched.
  • Durables: no. of cars in household, TV, satellite TV, cable TV, freeview, freesat, landline telephone, simple mobile phone, web mobile phone, video, DVD recorder, DVD player, personal computer, laptop PC, tablet PC, games console, MP3, DAB radio, DIG camera (ex phone).
  • Internet access: internet access – frequency, internet access – method, cable broadband, ADSL broadband, other broadband, non broadband, internet access – history.
  • Internet use: emails, info-requests, info-products, purchases – not groceries, grocery shopping, bank a/c & finances, job search, play games online, online gaming for money, download music, download movies, download/stream TV, online dating, VOIP, social networks/blogs, other.

Plus, as previously mentioned, new questions can be fed in so it doesn’t suffer from the data lag inherent in the census for major lifestyle shifts such as, for example, the growth of home working and online transactions and technology since the last census in 2010. All of this adds up to a very rich and relevant resource for anyone trying to understand all or a specific part of society.

The BPS and Beacon Dodsworth

Our own demographic data, P2 People & Places (P2), makes use of the British Population Survey to add depth to its core census data and to keep that data relevant as we get further from the last census.

To do this we send BPS the P2 branch for each output area (OA). They return us their survey answers anonymised by location but demographically coded with the P2 branch. We then incorporate the variables we want like supermarket, preferred newspaper and technology use to enhance the branch and tree descriptions and the comparison tables and graphs. This allows us to build a nationwide picture that offers real granular detail and understanding of groups living in any area or demographic group.

In addition to the many clients who benefit from the customer and audience understanding offered by P2, we also utilise BPS data for bespoke work and consultancy for our clients.

For example, we recently developed a custom profile for a client from the sports and leisure industry. BPS has data that accurately combines household income with numbers of children in a household. Using the P2 coded data we were able to model the likelihood of a given area having houses with the right combination of income and children to be interested in private sporting activities.

This is just one example of a specific use for BPS data. With the depth of data that the BPS offers, along with our own demographic data and location intelligence tools, we can harness BPS and similar data to help any organisation to understand their audience or customers. If you have any requirements in this area, please get in touch and we can talk through exactly what we could do to help you.

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