Professor Karen Rowlingson

Professor Karen Rowlingson

Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology
Professor of Social Policy

Contact details

School of Social Policy
Muirhead Tower
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT, United Kingdom

Karen is a Professor of Social Policy in the Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology and a member of the Centre on Household Assets and Savings Management (CHASM).


Karen Rowlingson joined the Department of Social Policy and Social Work in February 2007 as Professor of Social Policy.  She is Deputy Director of CHASM (the Research Centre on Household Assets and Savings Management) and Deputy Head of College for the College of Social Sciences.  After studying Modern History at Oxford University and Sociology at the LSE, Karen then worked at the Policy Studies Institute in London before becoming an academic at the Universities of Derby and then Bath.  From 2010-2012 she was the Vice Chair of the ESRC's Research Committee and Chair of its Grants Delivery Group.  In her spare time, Karen plays 11 aside football for Solihull Sporting Ladies.


Karen is currently teaching on the BA and MA in Social Policy. Her teaching specialism lies in research methods, social security policy and economic inequality.


Karen's research interests lie within the field of social policy and focus on the financial security of individuals, families and households including: assets and asset-based welfare; poverty, wealth and inequality; social security policy; financial capability and education (including savings, pensions, credit and debt).  As well as looking at individual behaviour in relation to personal finance she is interested in the role of the state, the financial services sector, employers and the third sector in delivering financial security.  Her research is strongly empirical involving a broad range of rigorous research methods. She has a particularly strong methodological expertise in designing quantitative surveys and mixing qualitative with quantitative methods.

Watch Karen presenting 'Ten Reasons Why People Should Pay Inheritance Tax' at the TEDX event at the University of Birmingham.

Current/recent work includes:

  • Research for the Barrow Cadbury Trust on Helping those on low income to save (2016)
  • Research for the Friends Provident Foundation to monitor financial inclusion (2012-2017)
  • Research for Leverhulme Trust on inter-generational justice and wealth inequality (2011-2014)
  • Research for AHRC on responsibilities, ethics and the financial crisis (2011-2014)
  • University of Birmingham Policy Commission on the Distribution of Wealth (2012-2013)
  • Research on the impact of income inequality for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2010-2011)
  • A project, funded by the ESRC, to investigate attitudes to inequality through analysis of a new module of questions on the 2009 British Social Attitudes Survey (with Michael Orton of Warwick University and the National Centre for Social Research) (2009-2011)
  • Research on financial education in schools involving group discussions with children in two Birmingham schools in contrasting areas (inner city and suburb) (2010)
  • Research on the role of housing associations in relation to savings for people on low-incomes.
  • A book on 'Wealth and the Wealthy' for The Policy Press (with Stephen McKay).
  • Supervising three doctoral researchers: Louise Overton on attitudes to equaity release; and John Moss on access to financial advice; and Soniya Wazed on social exclusion and gender in Bangledesh.



Appleyard, L, Rowlingson, K and Gardner, J (2016) ‘The variegated financialization of sub-prime credit markets’, Competition & Change, 20, 5, 297-313.

Rowlingson, K. Appleyard, L. and Gardner, J. (2016) Payday lending in the UK: the regul(aris)ation of a necessary evil? Journal of Social Policy, 45, 3, 527-543.

Rowlingson, K, Gardner, J and Appleyard, L (2016) Responsible Lending in the UK: What Role Does the State Play? In Ferretti, F. (ed.). Comparative Perspectives of Consumer Over-Indebtedness: A view from the UK, Germany, Greece, and Italy. Eleven International Publishing.

Rowlingson, K (2016) 'You can't take it with you when you die': wealth, intestacy rules and inheritance tax’ in Woodthorpe, K and Foster, L (eds) Death and Social Policy in Challenging Times, Palgrave Macmillan.


Appleyard, L, Gardner, J and Rowlingson, K (2015) Introducing a time delay on access to credit: Is it just delaying the inevitable? Birmingham: University of Birmingham.

Appleyard, L, Rowlingson, K and McKay, S (2015 forthcoming) 'Financial Inclusion', In Defence of Welfare II, Social Policy Association.

Gardner, J and Rowlingson, K (2015 forthcoming) 'High cost credit and welfare reform', In Defence of Welfare II, Social Policy Association.

McKay, S and Rowlingson, K (2015) Social security under the coalition and Conservatives: shredding the system for people of working age; privileging pensioners in Bochel, H and Powell, M (eds) The Coalition government and social policy,  Bristol, The Policy Press.

Rowlingson, K and McKay, S (2015) Financial inclusion 2015: Annual Monitoring Report, Birmingham, University of Birmingham.

Rowlingson, K (2015) The Benefits Cap doesn't work: Here's why, The Conversation, 29 January 2015.

Rowlingson, K, Lymer, A and Prabhakar, R (2015) New survey research on public attitudes to wealth taxes, Birmingham: University of Birmingham, CHASM Briefing Paper.


Rowlingson, K and McKay, S (2014) Financial inclusion 2014: Annual Monitoring Report, Birmingham, University of Birmingham.

Rowlingson, K, Appleyard, L and Gardner, J (2014) Response to the Financial Conduct Authority Consultation on Payday Lending. Birmingham: University of Birmingham.

Rowlingson, K, Appleyard, L and Gardner, J (2014) Capping the cost of payday lending in the UK: What will the impact be? Birmingham: University of Birmingham.

Rowlingson, K (2014) Should people on low incomes be encouraged to save during an economic down-turn? Birmingham: University of Birmingham CHASM Briefing Paper.

Rowlingson, K (2014) IMF's win-win scenario: When redistribution equals growth, The Conversation, 5 March 2014.

Rowlingson, K (2014) Hard Evidence: Is Osborne 'hacking away at the same people'? The Conversation, 8 January 2014.

Rowlingson, K (2014) Winter chill hits people of working age as benefits are frozen, response to Autumn Statement, The Conversation, 3 December 2014. 


Policy Commission on the Distribution of Wealth (2013), Sharing our Good Fortune: Understanding and responding to wealth inequality, Birmingham: University of Birmingham.

McKay, S and Rowlingson, K (2013) 'Income Maintenance and Taxation' in Bochel, H, Bochel, C, Page, R and Sykes, R (eds) Social Policy Developments and Change, 3rd edition, Pearson Education.

Rowlingson, K and McKay, S (2013) Financial inclusion 2013: Annual Monitoring Report, Birmingham: University of Birmingham.

Rowlingson, K and McKay, S (2013) What do the public think about the wealth gap?

Rowlingson, K (2013) Lowest paid face biggest decline in living standards since 1850, The Conversation, 17 December 2013.

Rowlingson, K (2013) Policy briefing: Where now for financial inclusion? Discover Society, 1 October 2013.

Rowlingson, K (2013) Short of cash, rent and food - Britons in dire financial straits, The Conversation, 25 July 2013.

Rowlingson, K (2013) Waiting for the Great Recession train to crash: How the poorest are about to be hit the hardest, and how we can prevent this, LSE Politics and Policy blog, 18 June 2013.

Rowlingson, K (2013) Why doesn't work pay? Birmingham Brief, December 2013.


Rowlingson, K and McKay, S (2012), Wealth and the Wealthy: Exploring and tackling inequalities between rich and poor, Bristol: The Policy Press.


Appleyard, L and Rowlingson, K (2011), 'Housing and Economic Inequality' in Anderson, I and Sim, D (eds), Housing and Social Inequality, London: Chartered Institute of Housing.

McKay, S and Rowlingson, K (2011), 'Social Security and Welfare Reform' in Bochel, H (ed) The Conservatives and Social Policy, Bristol: The Policy Press.

McKay, S and Rowlingson, K (2011 forthcoming), 'The Religion of Inequality' in Holmwood, J (ed) A Manifesto for the Public University, London: Bloomsbury.

Rowlingson, K and Connor, S (2011), 'The 'deserving' rich?  Inequality, morality and social policy' in Journal of Social Policy, 40,3, 437-452.

Rowlingson, K (2011) 'All in this together? Reflections on wealth, the wealthy and fairness' in Yeates, N, Haux, T, Jawad, R and Kilkey, M (eds) In Defence of Welfare: the impacts of the spending review, Social Policy Association.


Appleyard, L and Rowlingson, K (2010) , Home ownership and the distribution of personal wealth, York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Rowlingson, K (2010), Going for Broke, Parliamentary Brief, September 2010.

Rowlingson, K, Orton, M and Taylor, E (2010) 'Do we still care about inequality?' in Park, A, Curtice, J, Clery, E and Bryson, D (eds), British Social Attitudes: the 27th report: exploring Labour's legacy, London: Sage.

Rowlingson, K and Joseph, R (2010), Assets and debts in couples, London: Friends Provident Foundation

Follow this link for further publications by Professor Karen Rowlingson (pdf; 76KB; opens in new window)

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The financial security of individuals, families and households including: assets and asset-based welfare; poverty, wealth and inequality; inheritance and inheritance tax; social security policy; financial planning and money management; financial inclusion and capability; savings; pensions

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Economic and trade policy

Karen Rowlingson has 25 years experience of carrying out policy-relevant applied research on poverty, inequality and personal finance issues.  From 2016/2017 she was the Specialist Advisor to the House of Lords Select Committee on Financial Exclusion.  She has also advised the Cabinet Office on their recent initiative to focus on an inclusive economy (October 2016-).  She is a member of Michael Sheen’s Alliance to End High Cost Credit, launched in March 2018 and  has also been invited by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport to join an advisory group on the use of money (approximately £55m) from dormant bank accounts to help increase financial inclusion and capability (from May 2018).

In line with the civic mission of the University of Birmingham Karen also has a close relationship with Birmingham’s Financial Inclusion Partnership and has recently carried out a study of problem gambling in Birmingham to support their work on this topic. 

Karen is a regular contributor to a range of traditional and social media outlets.  Most recently, she was interviewed in May 2018 and appeared in a Chanel 4 News ‘So What?’ video on Are millennials poorer than past generations of young adults?  On the same topic, she was also quoted by Yvonne Roberts in an article on Millennials are struggling. Is it the fault of the baby boomers? in The Guardian in April 2018.  In February 2018, she took part in a Radio 4 You and Yours programme, talking about changing attitudes to credit.  And in April, she was invited back by Radio 4 You & Yours to take part in their Debt Special programme.