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Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


IOE at 120: Britain’s birth cohort studies find their home, 1992-2002

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 26 October 2022

A selection of birthday cards sent to members of the 1958 and 1970 British birth cohort studies in the 1990s.

A selection of birthday cards sent to members of the 1958 and 1970 British birth cohort studies in the 1990s.

This blog is the 10th in a series of 12 exploring each decade in IOE’s history in the context of the education and society of the times. Find out more about our 120th anniversary celebrations on our website, and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn to keep up with everything that’s happening. 

Meghan Rainsberry.

The 1990s was a decade in history when two great pillars of British social science came together – IOE, and the British birth cohort studies.

Following generations of Britons from cradle to grave, birth cohort studies have been a unique feature of medical and social science in Britain since the original birth cohort study was established in 1946. It was a first for Britain, and the world.

Today, the successors of the 1946 cohort are all housed together at the IOE’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies: the 1958 National Child Development Study, the 1970 British Cohort Study and the Millennium Cohort Study. The original 1946 cohort is not far away, just a few doors down at the MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing at UCL.

You’ll often hear the studies referred to as the ‘jewels in the crown’ of British social science. But if you wind the clock back to the 1980s, they were (more…)

The UK’s unique scientific versions of the 7-Up series

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 5 June 2019

Alissa Goodman.

I first encountered the brilliant Michael Apted 7-Up TV series as a 9 year old (pictured) in primary school, back in 1981, not long after 21-Up had been made. Instead of lessons, our teacher Miss Price let us watch TV over several afternoons. I remember watching, captivated, as the lives of the children unfolded, from (as we saw it then) tiny little 7 year olds, through to awkward teenagers, and into late 1970s youth.

Some of the captivation was simple: the mystery of life, and what happens next, resolving before our very eyes. But there was also a more serious lesson: that our social and economic circumstances from birth and onwards fundamentally shape our lives, and who we become. (more…)

Our 6th form research analysts

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 2 September 2016

The Nuffield Research Placement programme allows 1,000 students in the first year of post-16 education who want to go on to study Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths at university to gain some work experience in their field of interest. It’s (usually) done during the summer for around four weeks. Students who don’t have a family history of going to university or who attend schools in less well-off areas are encouraged to apply.
For the past three years, the IOE’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies has provided work placements to five Nuffield students. Over the course of their placements, the (more…)

Bullying: What have longitudinal studies taught us?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 17 November 2015

Meghan Rainsberry
The Department for Education (DfE) announced yesterday that 30,000 fewer children in England are experiencing bullying today compared to 10 years ago. This is a welcome finding as anti-bullying charities, schools, local authorities and others gear up for this year’s Anti-Bullying Week (16-20 November).
But other evidence suggests that the problem persists for many minority groups, and that the scarring effects of childhood bullying last well into adult life.
Longitudinal studies follow people throughout their lives, collecting information on their health, wellbeing, education, employment, family life and social networks. They are a unique resource for understanding who is at risk of being bullied, and what long-term effects bullying can have on our lives. (more…)

How the times are a-changing: tracking childhood from the 1960s till today

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 21 May 2012

Jane Elliott
Do children’s early life experiences determine their future health, wealth, and happiness? Can the ambitions and aspirations of seven year olds have a major impact on their future career and family life? How true is the Jesuit maxim “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man”? These are the questions that the 56 Up documentary series is exploring as part two airs tonight on ITV1.
They are also the questions addressed by the unique portfolio of British birth cohort studies that we look after at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the Institute of Education.
It was 1964 when Michael Apted first recruited a group of seven-year-olds from contrasting social backgrounds for the 7 Up documentary series. Just a year later, in 1965, over 14,000 seven year olds were surveyed and information collected from their mothers, their teachers and school medical doctors about their health, living conditions, school work, and development. These children were part of the National Child Development Study (NCDS), longitudinal research that built on a major survey of all the babies born in Britain in one week in spring 1958. Just like the 7 Up documentary, but on a rather different scale, this fascinating study still continues today. Indeed, the next survey of these cohort members will be in 2013 when they are aged 55. Researchers use the detailed information it provides to understand more about how circumstances in early life affect later development and well being.
For example, analysis of data from the study has demonstrated that parental divorce can often have a long term impact, so that young men and women whose parents had divorced were more likely to marry early, were less likely to get high level qualifications and were more likely to be unemployed at age 23. Early adversity has also been found to have an impact on health in mid-life so that a recent paper, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, shows that financial adversity in childhood is linked with poorer adult lung function.  This is partly because in the 1960s children from disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to live in poor quality housing, but also because these children were more likely to become smokers.
The data from the 1958 study also give us a fascinating insight into the lives of Britain’s seven year olds in the 1960s, and, by comparing this sample with later born cohorts, we can understand something of how childhood has changed over the last four decades. For example, in 1965 just one in fifty seven-year-olds (2%) was classified as “obese” and a further one in ten (9%) as “overweight”. Using data from the Millennium Cohort Study, which is following lives of around 19,000 children born in the UK in 2000-01, we know that by 2008 the proportion of seven-year-olds classified as obese had tripled to over one in twenty (6%), and one in seven (14%) were overweight. Comparisons between the cohorts also suggest that parenting has changed: in 1965, half of mothers (49%) reported reading to their child every week, compared with just over a third of resident fathers (36%); in 2008, nine in ten mothers (90%) and three quarters of resident fathers (74%) reported reading to their child at least once a week.