About cohort studies and longitudinal research

By following the same individuals throughout their lives, cohort studies show:

  • how early life circumstances and experiences influence later outcomes
  • how an individual’s health, wealth, family, parenting, education, employment and social attitudes are linked
  • how these aspects of life vary for different people.

Through comparing the different generations in the three cohorts, we can chart social change and start to untangle the reasons behind it. Findings from the studies help evaluate and plan policies aimed at preventing adverse outcomes and promoting beneficial ones.

Over the years, findings from the cohort studies have contributed to our thinking in a number of different policy areas, including education and equality of opportunity; poverty and social exclusion; gender differences in pay and employment; social class differences in health; changing family structures; and anti-social behaviour.

Historically, the studies have been key sources of evidence for a number of government inquiries such as the Plowden Committee on Primary Education (1967), the Warnock Committee on Children with Special Educational Needs (1978), the Finer Committee on One Parent Families (1966-74), the Acheson Independent Inquiry into Inequalities in Health (1998) and the Moser Committee on Adult Basic Skills (1997-99).

One study of working mothers and early child development helped shift the argument for increased maternity leave. Another study on the impact of assets, such as savings and investments on future life chances, played a major part in the development of assets-based welfare policy, including the ‘Baby Bond’.