Professor Sarah Irwin

Professor Sarah Irwin


After graduating with a degree in Geography at the University of Leeds I undertook research here and then at the University of Oxford. I studied for my PhD at the University of Edinburgh. My PhD was about change in the transition from youth to adulthood and the reshaping of pathways to independence and to household and family formation. My PhD took youth, and the social and economic shaping of dependence and independence, as a route into more general questions about social and economic inequalities, social demographic change, the life course, generation and gender. My first book ‘Rights of Passage’, which drew on my PhD, was winner of the BSA Philip Abrams Memorial Prize. After my PhD I held different roles as a Research Fellow (University of Essex) and Lecturer (University of York) before coming back to the University of Leeds as a Lecturer 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. I have researched 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. I am presently developing research into public perceptions and the climate crisis.


  • 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 recently completed a qualitative longitudinal research project into parenting and family life, with a particular focus on parents’ values and practices as their children grew up. I am also interested 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. I have published work on subjective experiences, and perceptions, of class and inequality. My long standing interest in subjective experiences and perceptions informs my current research into the climate crisis.

My interest in research methods includes qualitative longitudinal research, for example through my work on parenting and social inequalities and through ESRC Timescapes (where I directed the Secondary Analysis Project and developed research into methods of qualitative secondary analysis, inequalities and routes to higher education, and issues in gender and work-family conflict). 

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. I am convening a new module (2021-22, with Katy Wright) on Sociology and the Climate Crisis. I also contribute across other modules, teaching on educational inequalities, lay perceptions of inequality, 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 external organisations (for example in the public, third and FE sectors).

With colleagues and PhD students I run a range of events and workshops through FLaG.

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>