This page provides an introduction to socioeconomic data for infectious disease research. It details the relevance and use cases of such data, provides an overview of important sources of socioeconomic data, as well as how it can complement other data sources such as human clinical and health data.
What is socioeconomics data, and why is it important for infectious diseases research?
Social science research is devoted to studying societal phenomena, social changes and the impact on the individuals. The discipline includes branches such as political science, psychology, economics, and sociology, among several others. All disciplines of social sciences have a common ground of producing knowledge around the study of various aspects of human action and cultural interaction.
Social science data can provide important insights for infectious diseases research, as well as policy for disease preparedness and mitigation. For example, social sciences can help understand:
- how infectious diseases spread among and impact different segments of society such as different socioeconomic groups or economic sectors;
- how effective different government strategies are at combating the spread of a virus;
- how political and psychological factors can affect vaccine uptake;
- provide the socioeconomic elements on which policies and communication actions should focus and/or adapt in order to be more efficient.
For these reasons, the social sciences are considered a crucial aspect to deal with infectious diseases, including COVID-19. To facilitate this effort, social science data is mobilised via the Covid-19 data portal to achieve the following objectives:
- Connect it with other sources of data such as clinical or virological data.
- Standardise social science data.
- Provide methods and protocols for exposing and analysing it.
Methodologies: Social sciences methodologies are quite diverse and complex as they try to investigate complex, changeable, and often intangible social phenomena such as trust, ideology, or socioeconomic status. Thus, social sciences use both quantitative and qualitative research methods, often in combination, ranging from large scale quantitative surveys, to interviews or ethnographic research. As such, socioeconomic research methodologies and data often differ significantly from those typically used in the life sciences.
Sensitive data and privacy: due to the prevalence of sensitive and personal data in socioeconomic research, access to such data is often limited by serious data protection and privacy concerns, often making the use and sharing of such data difficult. Solutions such as pseudonymising data, or providing access via secure environments such as the ODDISEI Secure ANalysis Environment (SANE) can often provide some level of access to sensitive data, yet much of this data is only available on request, or as aggregated data.
The pandemic of COVID-19 has shown the impact of socioeconomic factors in terms of governance and state-citizens relations when it comes to an efficient response of science (to deal with infectious diseases) for the benefit of the society.
Indicatively, there has been a considerable number of social surveys dealing with the pandemic and its consequences in several aspects of the everyday life of citizens at global and EU level. Notably, compared to previous pandemics, there is a remarkable distinction: the accessibility of information and the advancements in digitization, including statistical data, have empowered citizens to gain a better understanding of the pandemic’s scope and severity. Concurrently, these resources have also provided citizens with insights into the scientific community’s relentless efforts and achievements to deal with diseases.
From the demography perspective, there have been surveys and related publications proving the relation of
- household structures and housing conditions (Giorgi & Boertien 2021);
- the role of nursing homes, especially during the first wave (Bernandi et al. 2021);
- the role of gender or socioeconomic status (Horton 2020).
From the political science, psychology or sociology sciences’ perspective, surveys that studied the effect of conspiracy theories regarding vaccines, propagation of virus and others, have shown clusters of people that relate resistance to vaccines with respect to personal ideology, adherence to conspiracy theories or that lower level of education, religiosity, conspiracy thinking can be an indicator for vaccine resistance.
Even industrial advanced societies proved that they were not well-prepared to combat the devastated pandemic. Lessons learnt should focus on how to adjust health systems responses but also to find ways to strengthen trust among citizens building on resilience, access to information and services for all.
- Examples of successful uses of social science in infectious diseases research (e.g. (this, or e.g. papers describing this
- Journals, outlets, platforms, communities etc. for related research - e.g. BY-COVID Zenodo Community, COVID-19 Social Science working group (who.int), relevant FAIRsharing resources
Search and discoverability
Currently, the COVID-19 Data Portal contains metadata records from the Consortium of European Social Science Data Archives’ (CESSDA) CESSDA Data Catalogue (CDC) and the European University Institute’s (EUI) EUI COVID-19 SSH Data Portal.
For socioeconomics, two primary data sources are considered and are outlined in this section. These data sources provide data that relate to or are relevant for COVID-19 and other infectious disease outbreaks. These data sources are filtered for data relevant to COVID-19, and the resulting metadata is prepared and harmonized via a harvesting tool before being added to the COVID-19 Data Platform (for more details, see project deliverable D2.1).
- Licenses: Socio-economic data sources are generally public and accessible, but authorisation or licensing agreements may be required to access some datasets. While the complete datasets may not always be openly available, the metadata is typically freely accessible. Socioeconomic data sources also offer programmatic access to their metadata using standards like the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH). This enables the automated harvesting, harmonisation, and transformation of metadata into the OmicsDI format, which can then be used by the COVID-19 Data Portal.
- CESSDA Data Catalogue (CDC): As a consortium of Social Science Data Archives with Service Providers (SPs) from 22 member states, CESSDA contains a wealth of social science data from throughout Europe. This data is aggregated through the CDC, which contains descriptors of over 40,000 data collections from CESSDA’s SPs.
- EUI COVID-19 SSH Data Portal: This portal “provides integrated search, discovery, and linking to datasets published on the web relevant for COVID-19-related research in the Social Sciences and Humanities.” The metadata provided by the platform comes from data sources selected by academic staff at EUI through a thorough curation process, and the platform will develop bespoke services such as the ability to merge data from multiple data sources.
Tools and resources on this pageSkip tool table
|Tool or resource
|CESSDA Data Catalogue (CDC)
|CDC is a one-stop shop for searching and finding European social science data.
|Tool info Standards/Databases
|Covid-19 data portal
|The COVID-19 Data Portal enables researchers to upload, access and analyse COVID-19 related reference data and specialist datasets. The aim of the COVID-19 Data Portal is to facilitate data sharing and analysis, and to accelerate coronavirus research. The portal includes relevant datasets submitted to EMBL-EBI as well as other major centres for biomedical data. The COVID-19 Data Portal is the primary entry point into the functions of a wider project, the European COVID-19 Data Platform.
|Human biomolecular data Human clinical and hea... The Swedish Pathogens ...
|Tool info Standards/Databases Training
|EUI COVID-19 SSH Data Portal
|The COVID-19 SSH Data Portal provides integrated search, discovery, and linking to datasets published on the web relevant for COVID-19-related research in the Social Sciences and Humanities.
|ODDISEI Secure ANalysis Environment (SANE)
|SANE is a virtual container in which the researcher can analyse sensitive data, while the data owner retains full control.