Professor Sarah Irwin

Professor Sarah Irwin


I graduated (rather a long time ago) with a degree in Geography, undertook research at Leeds then Oxford Universities and then did my PhD at the University of Edinburgh. My PhD was about transitions from youth to adulthood in the 1980s context of the undermining of youth employment and linked concerns about young people's futures, particularly their ability to form independent households and, in time, families of their own. My PhD took youth, and the social and economic shaping of dependence and independence, as a route into more general questions and research relating to social and economic inequalities, social demographic change, life course, generation and gender. After my PhD I held different roles as a researcher and lecturer before coming back to the University of Leeds in the early 1990s. I have since been centrally involved in a series of large research projects at Leeds including the ESRC funded Research Group on Care, Values and the Future of Welfare (CAVA), Real Life Methods (part of the National Centre for Research Methods), and ESRC Timescapes. More recently I have developed research and published in areas relating to family and parenting, to youth in transition through recession in comparative perspective, and to lay perceptions of class and inequality.  


  • Director of FLaG
  • MSc programme lead: Inequalities and Social Science

Research interests

My research relates to family life, parenting, youth transitions and educational pathways, and socio-economic inequalities. I have recently completed a qualitative longitudinal research project into parenting and family life, with a particular focus on parents’ values and practices as children grew up through their teenage years. I have a longstanding interest in transitions from youth to adulthood, in the changing relationship between education and the labour market, and in young people's employment and family related pathways. Linked to this I am developing research in the area of technical and vocational education and training. I am developing international comparative research work and (with Ann Nilsen) recently published an edited collection situating 'Transitions in Recession' in comparative European and historical contexts. I have also published work on subjective experiences, and perceptions, of class and inequality.

My interest in research methods includes qualitative longitudinal research. I have also been involved in mixed methods research and in qualitative secondary analysis, with a substantive focus on inequalities and routes to higher education, and issues in gender and work-family conflict, and I directed the Secondary Analysis Project of ESRC Timescapes, a qualitative longitudinal study (‘Changing lives and times: relationships and identities through the life course’ 2007-12).

I am Director of the Centre for Research on Families, the Life Course and Generations (FLaG).

I am on the Steering Group of the Inequalities Research Network.

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • BA (hons) Geography (University of Leeds)
  • PhD (University of Edinburgh)

Professional memberships

  • British Sociological Association

Student education

My main teaching interests reflect my research interests, most obviously in the level 3 module ‘Education, Culture and Society’, and also in contributions across other modules for example relating to my interests in parenting, the life course and research methods.

I am programme lead for the MSc Inequalities and Social Science and run the Applied Project module which offers a dissertation undertaken in partnership with an external organisation (for example third sector organisations).

I have convened a new programme of staff student workshops through which we are further engaging our undergraduate and MA students with the research culture of the School as a whole, and with the work of colleagues from across the University, and outside, through the Inequalities Research Network.

I have extensive MA and PhD supervision and examining experience.

Research groups and institutes

  • Centre for Research on Families, The Life Course and Generations

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>The school welcomes enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>