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Tributes to social research group

Tributes have been paid to an army of researchers who have been asking the British public about everything from their underwear to aircraft noise for seven decades.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is marking the 70th anniversary of the first Government Social Survey.

Since 1941 thousands of researchers have been dispatched to gauge opinions about a bewildering array of topics.

To mark the anniversary, the ONS has highlighted a study from each of the last seven decades starting with one of the first - a November 1941 Survey of Foundation Garments which looked at corsets with an eye on reducing the amount of valuable steel used in them during the war.

More than 5,000 respondents were asked about the "types of supporting garment worn and possessed" and a range of other questions.

And the report showed 7.8% of shop assistants wore boned suspender belts compared with only 2.1% of agricultural workers. The average number of supporting garments owned by women interviewed was 1.2.

In 1951 1,800 people were asked about "the public's understanding of the problems of coloured colonials in this country and its general attitudes to working and mixing socially with coloured people".

The survey was one of the first focusing on ethnicity in Britain.

It found that 52% of all informants said they had come across a "coloured person" at some time in their lives and 11% of the total sample said they knew a "coloured person" as a personal friend.

The report said: "Antipathy to coloured people in this country is probably considerable amongst at least one third of the population. The reactions of at least another third might be uncertain or unfavourable."

The other surveys highlighted are a 1961 study into aircraft noise at Heathrow airport, the first General Household Survey in 1971, an inquiry into women and drinking in 1981, a 1991 look at smoking among secondary schoolchildren, an examination of contraception of sexual health in 2001 and, from this year, a "wellbeing" survey of 200,000 who were asked to rate their "life satisfaction".

National Statistician Jil Matheson said, "New survey questions would be a powerful way to understand the wellbeing of people across the country and for different places, different age groups, whether people are in work or not, and for other groups.

"We need to show a wider picture, such as the environment, key statistics on health, levels of education and inequality in income."