Podcast series: 50 Years of Life in Britain

Join us as we celebrate 50 years of the 1970 British Cohort Study with a new podcast series. ‘50 Years of Life in Britain’ explores the contribution BCS70 participants have made to improving British science and society. The six-part series tells their story, and charts the first five decades of the study.

The podcasts take listeners on a journey through British social and political history. With participants reminiscing about their involvement in the study, they also tell us what it’s been like to grow up, learn, work, love and reach middle age in modern Britain.

We hear from the academics and staff who have driven the study forward, and the researchers whose findings have influenced public policy and scientific debate. We also speak to the policymakers and politicians whose thinking has been shaped by the study’s most important discoveries.

In addition, the series looks to the present and future. We hear how cohort members have fared during the COVID-19 lockdown, and discover how BCS70, and cohort studies in general, can help us understand the short and long term impacts of the pandemic.

Presented by Dr Lee Elliot Major OBE, Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, each episode looks at one decade of the history of the study.

You can listen to the episodes below, or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.


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Episode 6 – 2020, COVID-19 and the future

Our last episode of the series examines how BCS70 and our study members have been faring during the pandemic and looks to the future of longitudinal research.

We find out more about the COVID-19 survey, sent to over 50,000 participants in five of Britain’s cohort studies, including BCS70, and we speak to study participants about their experiences of lockdown. We also find out more about the benefits of launching a new cohort study in the coming years.

Guests include:

  • Professor Alice Sullivan, BCS70 director, who discusses her highlights and challenges running the study, and her hopes and dreams for its future.
  • Professor Alissa Goodman, director of the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, on the COVID-19 survey and the future of Britain’s cohort studies.
  • Study members, who share their COVID-19 lockdown experiences.


View and download the transcript for episode 6


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Episode 5 – Midlife, the 2010s and health and wellbeing

In this episode, we move into the 2010s to find out how our study members were faring in their forties. We learn how BCS70 cast light on increasing rates of mental ill-health among men, and find out more about the most recent biomedical survey where participants were given a health MOT. We also chat to one of our in-house study detectives about the role they play tracing long lost study participants.

Guests include:

  • Professor George Ploubidis, Research Director and Chief Statistician at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, discussing his work looking at the rising levels of depression among Generation X in middle age.
  • Professor Mark Hamer, Professor of Sport and Exercise Medicine at UCL, providing insights on the Age 46 Biomedical Sweep – including why study participants were asked to stand on one leg.
  • Mary Ukah, BCS70 Cohort Maintenance Officer, on how she manages to trace study members we have lost touch with.
  • Study members, who share their memories of life in the 2010s, and taking part in the study.

View and download the transcript for episode 5


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Episode 4 – Social mobility, the 2000s and the gender pay gap

In this fourth episode, we move into the new millennium, when the study enjoyed a golden decade. With BCS70 greatly valued by scientists and policymakers, the study was funded to meet participants on three occasions and was regularly cited by New Labour in government policy. With this new-found recognition, researchers across the globe started using BCS70 in conjunction with other birth cohort studies to see how members of Generation X were faring compared to other generations. We also speak to study participants about their careers and lives in their thirties.

We explore the 2000s with:

  • Professor Heather Joshi, former director of CLS and founder of the Millennium Cohort Study, who discusses her research on the gender pay gap and working mothers.
  • Dr Jo Blanden, reader in economics at University of Surrey, who talks about her work on social mobility and how BCS70 continues to inform debate on this subject.
  • Lord David Willetts, former Universities Minister and President of the Resolution Foundation, who explains the importance of BCS70 for informing government policy and thinking.
  • Study members, who share their memories of life in the 2000s, and taking part in the study.

View and download the transcript for episode 4


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Episode 3 – A new dawn, the 1990s and skills for life

In this third episode, we move into the 1990s to find out how the study and its staff survived the lean years of the 80s and early 90s, and managed to get back in contact with study participants after a 10 year gap. We learn about the study’s stark findings on adults’ numeracy and literacy, which led to the government’s Skills for Life adult learning programme. We also ask study participants what it was like to join the study again as adults and find out how they were getting on in the big wide world after the boom and bust years.

Guests include:

  • Kate Smith, CLS survey manager for more than three decades, discusses how the BCS70 team kept the study going while on monthly contracts.
  • Professor Heather Joshi, former director of CLS, reflects on the successful Age 26 Survey.
  • Dr Sam Parsons, CLS research officer, and Professor John Bynner, former CLS director, who conducted the literacy and numeracy research.
  • Dr Sue Pember, former government policymaker, who was given responsibility for rolling out the Skills for Life education initiative in the new millennium.
  • Study members who share their recollections of the 1990s and rejoining the study after a 10 year gap.

View and download the transcript for episode 3


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Episode 2 – Youthscan, the 1980s and reading for pleasure

In this second episode, we move into the 1980s to find out how Neville Butler kept the 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70) going during a decade of austerity. We learn about the benefits of reading for pleasure for children’s English and maths skills. We also ask study participants about their teenage years and find out what it was like sharing their 19th birthday with 4,000 other people at Alton Towers.

We explore all of this and more with:

  • Professor John Bynner, former BCS70 director, who worked on a number of reports and initiatives to make cohort study data more accessible to researchers in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • Professor Alice Sullivan, current BCS70 director and co-author of the influential study on reading for pleasure.
  • Professor Scott Montgomery, epidemiologist and former BCS70 researcher, who worked with BCS70 founder, Neville Butler during this era.
  • Study members, who share their memories of life in the 1980s, and taking part in the study.

View and download the transcript for episode 2


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Episode 1 – The British Births Survey, the 1970s and Tony Blair

In our first episode of ‘50 Years of Life in Britain’, we explore the first decade of the 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70) and the impact of its early years research on policy many years later.

Guests include:

  • Professor Jean Golding OBE, BCS70 researcher during the 1970s/80s, and founder of the ALSPAC study, known as ‘Children of the Nineties’.
  • Dr Leon Feinstein, academic and author of one of the most well-known BCS70 studies, which influenced New Labour policy on early years education provision.
  • Study members, who share their memories of growing up in the 1970s, and their early recollections of participating in the study.

View and download the transcript for episode 1


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Special thanks to our host Dr Lee Elliot Major OBE for his time, enthusiasm and dedication to the project.

A big thank you to the study members who shared their memories, stories and reflections with us for this podcast series.

This podcast is produced by Fresh Air Production.

The views of the academic experts and other guests in our podcasts are their own. CLS and UCL regard the right to debate and challenge ideas as fundamental and we are committed to ensuring that free and open discussion can take place in an atmosphere of tolerance as part of our Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech.

Contact us

Centre for Longitudinal Studies
UCL Social Research Institute

20 Bedford Way
London WC1H 0AL

Email: clsdata@ucl.ac.uk

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