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Influential ESRC-funded study turns 50 this month

The influential, internationally renowned 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70) and its study participants turned 50 this month.

BCS70, one of the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) major data investments, is following the lives of around 17,000 people born in England, Scotland and Wales in a single week in April 1970. The study involves multiple surveys of these individuals from birth and throughout their lives.

BCS70 is based at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) at University College London (UCL). The team leading BCS70 is marking the study’s 50th birthday with a series of stories over the coming year that celebrate the cohort’s contribution to science and society, telling the lives of the cohort from birth to now: 50 stories in 50 weeks. The stories will be published on the CLS website and on social media.

The stories will traverse five decades of British life, speak to study participants about their memories of taking part, showcase the impact of BCS70’s research findings, and highlight fascinating features of the survey design and study data. In a podcast series, the team will go behind the scenes to discover what it’s really like to work on a cohort study, and chat to leading academics to find out about their ground-breaking research using BCS70.

ESRC’s Executive Chair, Jennifer Rubin, yesterday said:

“It’s exciting to see the 1970 British Cohort Study reach its 50th birthday, and at the same time, be reminded of everything that the study has achieved and revealed about social change. This kind of work is never more relevant than today as we navigate major health, economic and wider challenges associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

“Following the same people throughout their lives, the BCS shows how histories of health, wealth, education, family and employment are interwoven for individuals, vary between them and affect outcomes and achievements in later life.”

Some of the most significant findings of BCS70 are:

  • Research using BCS70 data reveals that child outcomes are not negatively affected by their mothers going to work. This research has been influential in challenging assumptions and in changing government thinking on the topic, ultimately leading to the development of policy on maternity and parental leave.
  • BCS70 research on adult literacy and numeracy highlighted the hardships experienced by many adults with the lowest levels of literacy and numeracy. It found a strong relationship between very low basic skills and other negative outcomes in adult life, such as poor labour-market experiences and prospects, low income, ill-health and lack of social and political participation. The research has been much-cited in helping to shape the thinking of international organisations, business and skills bodies, local authorities, think tanks and charities.
  • A study by researchers at the UCL Institute of Education using BCS70 data found that children who read for pleasure made more progress in maths, as well as vocabulary and spelling, between the ages of 10 and 16 than those who rarely read. The research has provided important evidence that has helped to shape policies on reading and libraries in England, Scotland, and internationally.

Follow the BCS70 50 stories campaign using the hashtag #BCS7050stories on Twitter, and on the CLS website.


For media enquiries, contact the Press Team or Tamera Jones, 0734 202 5443.

Notes for Editors

  1. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government. For more information visit the UKRI website. The ESRC is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policy-makers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective.
  2. 1970 British Cohort Study
    • The original survey, called the British Births Survey, was designed for a specific purpose - to measure the progress in changes in care for mothers and babies, triggered by findings from the 1958 survey.
    • Information was gathered about all the babies born in England, Scotland and Wales in one week in April 1970 - just under 17,200 babies.
    • Like the NCDS, this study did not stop after the first survey, and the babies were followed up at ages 5, 10, 16, 26, 30 and 34.
    • The most recent survey took place in 2008 when the cohort members were aged 38. With each survey, the scope of enquiry has broadened from a medical focus at birth to physical and educational development at age 5, physical, educational and social development at ages 10 and 16, and economic development and other social factors at ages 26 and 30.
    • From 2000 the questioning has largely converged with that of NCDS, spanning the major domains of adult life including education, employment, housing, family formation, health, citizenship and values.
  3. Centre for Longitudinal Studies, University College London


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