The value of longitudinal data: A symposium to celebrate the career of Prof Heather Joshi

17th May 2012 9:30 to 16:30

Thank you Heather!

The remarkable career of Professor Heather Joshi was celebrated at a special symposium held in her honour at the Institute of Education, University of London.

Academics from across the world paid tribute to Heather's work throughout the day. A series of presentations showcased how longitudinal data have underpinned social policy debates for decades. Guest speaker Sue Owen, Director General (Strategy) for the Department for Work and Pensions and long-time friend and colleague of Heather’s, said “longitudinal data are important in both developing policy and determining its impact” and that these data are “at the heart” of many of today’s policy agendas. Sue emphasised the increasingly important role for longitudinal data in government, particularly in determining how people’s behaviours have changed, and in understanding where early intervention is needed.

Several speakers emphasised the role of longitudinal data in highlighting the importance of early childhood circumstances and experiences to later development. John Ermisch, University of Oxford, used MCS data to show that the parenting a child receives in the first three years of life has the greatest effect on cognitive development. By age 5, the effects of parenting on cognitive development has already diminished. John Bynner, Institute of Education, noted that longitudinal data have also helped to prove that social class is as important as ever, particularly when it serves as an obstacle to staying in school and gaining qualifications.

Presenters also emphasised the breadth of information found in longitudinal datasets. Kathleen Kiernan, University of York, presented findings from an analysis of MCS data that showed how certain circumstances of a child’s life, such as being in poverty, interact with – and often exacerbate – other factors, such as parenting and maternal depression. She warned against a policy trend of focusing on one area over another, as longitudinal analysis shows us these factors are not independent.

Speaker slides

Slide set 1: Gerry Makepeace and Marianne Sundstrom

Slide set 1: Kathleen Kiernan and John Ermisch

Slide set 3: Mel Bartley and Sue Owen

Slide set 4: John Bynner, Mary Clare Lennon and Elizabeth Cooksey

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    “I am so pleased to see the British birth cohort studies going forward under the extremely capable hands of a new generation of principal investigators: Carol Dezateux for the ‘new’ cohort; Lucinda Platt for the Millennium Cohort Study; Alice Sullivan for the 1970 cohort; Jane Elliott for the 1958 cohort and Diana Kuh for the 1946 cohort. It would not always have been taken for granted that there would now be five such studies, all headed by women.”

    Prof Heather Joshi