UCL News


Influential UK birth cohort studies to be brought together for first time

2 December 2014

One outcome of the IOE and UCL merger coming into effect today will be that all five of the UK's national birth cohort studies will be housed at the same institution for the first time, forming the largest concentration of birth cohort expertise in the world.


Cohort studies are a type of longitudinal research that follow the same group of people throughout their lives, charting health and social changes and untangling the reasons behind them.

The UK has more birth cohort studies than any other country in the world and they play a pivotal role in measuring the health and wellbeing of society.

The merger marks a major advance for these influential and world-renowned studies, which have followed the lives of generations of Britons since 1946.

The IOE has long been home to the 1958, 1970 and millennium cohort studies, which form the Centre for Longitudinal Studies. They will join the two other national birth cohort studies - the oldest and newest - that are based at UCL. One is the Medical Research Council (MRC) National Survey of Health and Development (the 1946 cohort study), the other is Life Study, which will follow more than 80,000 babies born between 2014 and 2018.

Findings from the studies have contributed to many of the most important social and medical insights of recent decades and helped to shape decision making in policy areas such as education, employment, housing and health.

One example of policy influence is that results from the 1946 study showed children of equivalent cognitive ability from less privileged backgrounds were much less likely to do well at school, to pass the 11-plus, and to stay in education after the school-leaving age of 15 compared with their more privileged peers. These observations influenced policy decisions to raise the leaving age to 16, and the move towards comprehensive education.

Bringing these studies together offers a brilliant showcase of the opportunities that can be realised by two world-leading institutions combining their research strengths.

Professor Graham Hart

Having these studies within one organisation will allow for more interaction between them and the better sharing of ideas and best practice, opening the doors for more robust cross-generational and cross-cohort research.

Professor Alissa Goodman, Acting Director of the IOE's Centre for Longitudinal Studies, said: "This merger creates opportunities for innovation in longitudinal research that we've never seen before. Not only will all five UK national birth cohorts be together for the first time in their history, but experts from across the social and medical sciences will be able to work together to address some of the most important challenges facing the UK today - an ageing population, growing health inequalities, and restricted social mobility."

Professor Graham Hart, Dean of UCL Population Health Sciences, said: "Each of these studies is hugely influential in its own right and has provided evidence to inform a vast array of health, social and education policies. Birth cohort studies are an incredibly rich source of data and to have so many within the same institution is very exciting. This will create synergies and allow us to ask and answer important social and biomedical questions. Bringing these studies together offers a brilliant showcase of the opportunities that can be realised by two world-leading institutions combining their research strengths."

The birth cohort studies are principally funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Medical Research Council.