History of the 1970 British Cohort Study

The 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70) began as the British Births Survey (BBS), collecting data on the births and families of just under 17,200 babies born in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in a particular week in April 1970. The BBS was sponsored by the National Birthday Trust Fund in association with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. After the initial birth survey, Northern Irish participants were dropped from the sample.

The BBS has been followed by eight attempts to trace all members of the birth cohort. At each sweep, different sources and methods were used to gather information on the cohort members. In the birth survey, the midwife present at the birth completed a questionnaire and supplementary information was obtained from clinical records. As the cohort members got older, the tools and information gathered changed. Health Visitors interviewed the parents, teachers completed questionnaires, medical examinations were carried out, and cohort members themselves participated in educational assessments. In certain sweeps, cohort members have also kept nutrition and activity diaries. The surveys at ages 5 and 10 augmented their samples by adding immigrants born in the same week.

The BCS70 has gone through many names over time. The first two ‘sweeps’ of the BCS70 – at ages 5 and 10 – were carried out by the Department of Child Health at Bristol University and were referred to as the Child Health and Education Study. In 1986, the International Centre for Child Studies ran the age 16 survey, which they called Youthscan. Then in 1996, the age 26 survey was carried out by the Social Statistics Research Unit at City University.

In 1998 the management of the BCS70 was transferred to the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) at the UCL Institute of Education. CLS carried out surveys in 2000, 2004 and 2008, with the National Centre for Social Research conducting the fieldwork. The most recent sweep of the BCS70 was conducted by TNS-BMRB from 2012-2013.

CLS will carry out new surveys of the BCS70 cohort at age 46 in 2016, and age 50 in 2020.

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CLS tracks published work using cohort data in order to help other researchers avoid duplication and also demonstrate the value of the studies to the research community.

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