CLS conference highlights the relevance of longitudinal research to policy

27 November 2012

Longitudinal research is a crucial source of evidence for policy in areas as diverse as mental health, unemployment, cognitive development, parenting, poverty and obesity, according to speakers at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies’ annual conference.

Researchers from the UK and abroad met with civil servants, funders and others to discuss policy-relevant findings from the cohort studies on November 20 at the Institute of Education, University of London. Sessions covered a wide variety of topics, including how social inequalities affect cognitive development, the impact of harsh parenting on children’s behaviour, and the effect of Ofsted inspection ratings on attainment at age seven.

Keynote speaker Pamela Davis-Kean of the University of Michigan stressed the particular importance of cross-cohort studies to policy development. Drawing on her experience with the Collaborative for the Analysis of Pathways from Childhood to Adulthood (CAPCA) in America, Pamela explained how cross-cohort studies enrich our understanding of lifecourse issues and ensure government policy is based on the most robust evidence.

In one example highlighted in her talk, researchers used the US Panel Study of Income Dynamics Child Development Supplement and the 1970 British Cohort Study to show that mastery of early maths skills is a primary distinguishing factor between young people who go on to university and those who do not. Children who developed these skills were also more likely to earn more as adults, while knowledge of fractions and long division were found to be the strongest predictors of advanced maths skills.

The work of the next generation of researchers was showcased in poster displays by British and international PhD students using cohort data. Prizes for most outstanding projects were awarded to Agnese Peruzzi of the University of Gothenburg and Baowen Xue of University College London. Agnese’s study uses data from the 1970 British Cohort Study to determine if and how childhood disadvantage is related to mid-life social exclusion, and more specifically the effect of education on this relationship. Baowen’s study uses Millennium Cohort Study data to assess whether children of single mothers fare better or worse after their mothers find new partners.

For more information visit the conference web page at www.cls.ioe.ac.uk/cohortconference.