1958 National Child Development Study

The 1958 National Child Development Study (NCDS) is following the lives of an initial 17,415 people born in England, Scotland and Wales in a single week of 1958. It started in 1958 at birth, as the Perinatal Mortality Survey.

What’s in the study?

Over the course of cohort members’ lives, we have collected information on their physical and educational development, economic circumstances, employment, family life, health behaviour, wellbeing, social participation and attitudes.

The study has become an invaluable data source on such topics as the effects of socioeconomic circumstances, and child adversities on health, and social mobility. It has also become an important resource for the study of genetics.

What has the study found?

This study has made influential discoveries about every stage of life. Research has uncovered the wide-reaching negative effects of mothers’ smoking during pregnancy. It has shown how mental health problems develop across childhood and into adult life. It has revealed how economic inequalities are transmitted across generations, and the origins in childhood of health inequalities in middle age. Government, doctors, teachers, charities and others have used findings to develop services and policies that help improve people’s lives.

Today the 1958 cohort is one of the best resources in Britain for understanding the lifelong factors affecting retirement and ageing.

Who funds the study?

NCDS receives core funding from the Economic and Social Research Council.  The next NCDS sweep, at age 61, is co-funded by the Medical Research Council, the US National Institutes of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions.

 

NCDS sweeps

Since the initial birth sweep, NCDS cohort members have been followed up ten times. The next sweep will take place in 2020 – 2021 when the cohort members will be in their early sixties. Click on a sweep below to learn more about the information collected.

Latest from NCDS

 
Research

Does the language of 11-year-olds predict their future?

This research project aimed to apply automatic content analysis tools to transcribed self-reported essays, written by study members at age 11 and age 50 in order to undertake quantitative analysis of the words and concepts expressed by respondents.
News

Degrees still boost household income for women, although returns to education are diminishing

25 October 2018 Higher education has been less lucrative for women of Generation X than it was for the Baby Boomers, new research reveals.
News

Did the Baby Boomers fulfil their childhood dreams?

30 April 2018 In 1969, more than 10,000 11-year-olds, taking part in the National Child Development Study (NCDS), were asked to write an essay imagining what their lives would be like at 25. Fast forward 50 years, and we contacted a number of study members to share their essay with them and see how their lives had unfolded. 
News

Children from lower social classes up to 5kg heavier than their more advantaged peers

21 March 2018 Disadvantaged children born at the start of the 21st century weighed up to 5kg more in their childhood and early teenage years than those from more privileged backgrounds, a new study has found.
News

Latest partnership histories dataset now available

30 November 2017 The latest version of the National Child Development Study: Partnership Histories (1974-2013) has been released at the UK Data Service.

Cohort profile

This provides information about the background to the study as well as its sample size, content, and findings. We expect an updated profile to be published soon.

Power, C and Elliott, J (2006)
Cohort Profile: 1958 British birth cohort (National Child Development Study)
International Journal of Epidemiology, 35(1), 34-41

Read the full paper

Recent scientific publications

Harvey, S, Sellahewa, D, Wang, M, Milligan-Saville, J, Bryan, B, Henderson, M, Hatch, S and Mykletun, A
The role of job strain in understanding midlife common mental disorder: a national birth cohort study
The Lancet Psychiatry, 2018, 5(6), p498-506.
Read the full paper
Cheng, H, Montgomery, S, Treglown L and Furnham, A
Associations between childhood biomedical factors, maternal smoking, personality traits, Body and Mass Index and the prevalence of asthma in adulthood
Psychology & Health, 2018
Read the full paper

Special features of this study

Sample design

The NCDS is a birth cohort study. It follows the lives of all people born in England, Scotland and Wales in one particular week of March 1958. The birth sweep collected information about 17,415 newly born babies – an amazing 98 per cent of all the births in Great Britain that week.

At 7, 11 and 16, the sample was augmented with those who had been born overseas in the relevant week and subsequently moved to Great Britain. This resulted in a total sample of 18,558 cohort members, who have been followed ever since. There has inevitably been some attrition from the sample, but retention rates over six decades have been very strong.

Biomedical data

We have collected objective measures of health in both childhood and adulthood.

Medical examinations during childhood, at ages 7, 11, and 16, measured height, weight, vision, hearing, speech, and motor co-ordination, and recorded information on a range of medical conditions.

The Age 44 biomedical sweep measured vision, hearing, blood pressure, height, weight, waist and hip circumference and lung function. Non-fasting blood samples were collected and (with consent) immortalised cell lines were created and DNA extracted and stored for medical research purposes. A wide variety of assays of the blood were conducted.

These measures, combined with the vast amount of self-reported information about health provided by parents and cohort members throughout life provide researchers with fantastic opportunities to study factors associated with good and poor health throughout the life course.

Mental health and wellbeing in childhood and across adult life

Mental health and wellbeing have been continually assessed from childhood through to mid-life in NCDS.

Childhood mental health was assessed via medical examination, parent reports and teacher reports. Mental health has been tracked through adulthood (since age 23) using the ‘Malaise’ scale and other measures (including CIS-R at 44), alongside self-reported measures of depression and other mental health problems.

On wellbeing, a life satisfaction scale has been repeatedly measured since age 33 while richer scales of wellbeing have also been more recently included (CASP at 50 and 55, Warwick Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale at age 50) This comprehensive suite of measures provide researchers with unparalleled opportunities for studying trajectories of mental health and the interplay between mental health and other domains of life.

Social and economic status across generations

During the childhood sweeps, information was collected about parental occupations, education, employment and income.

Cohort members have themselves provided detailed information about their own occupations, education, employment and income during each adult sweep making NCDS ideal for studying patterns of economic and social mobility, within and between generations.

The early sweeps of NCDS also collected information about grandparents’ occupation, and at age 61, we aim to find out about the occupations of their children – enabling analysis over four generations. The similar information collected in the other cohort studies gives researchers the opportunity to examine how mobility has changed across successive cohorts.

Cognitive ability and cognitive function

NCDS is a valuable resource for studying the development of cognitive ability during childhood, and cognitive function in adult life, as well as how cognitive abilities impact upon all aspects of life.

Cognition was first measured at age 7 and then throughout childhood at ages 11 and 16.

In adulthood, basic skills assessments were conducted at age 34, vocabulary assessments were conducted with a sub-sample at age 37 and the Age 50 sweep included assessments of memory, executive function and concentration. The Age 61 sweep will also measure cognition, as will future sweeps, allowing for the study of changes in cognition associated with ageing.

Popular survey documentation

NCDS Age 55 Survey User Guide

User Guide for the 2013 follow-up to NCDS when participants were age 55.

Authors: Matt Brown and Maggie Hancock
Date published: February 2015
PDF: 550,35 KB

Download

NCDS Age 50 Guide to the Dataset

Final version of the dataset user guide for NCDS age 50 sweep.

Authors: Matt Brown, Jane Elliott, Maggie Hancock, Peter Shepherd and Brian Dodgeon
Date published: October 2012
PDF: 865,42 KB

Download

Data access

We’ve published guidance to help users find out what’s in our data.

Most NCDS data are available through the UK Data Service. Visit the UK Data Service study page for NCDS [SN 20000032].

Principal Investigator

Alissa Goodman Director of CLS, Professor of Economics and Principal Investigator of the National Child Development Study

Phone: 020 7612 6231
Email: alissa.goodman@ucl.ac.uk

Alissa is Director of the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, leading the work of the Centre across all of its scientific and operational teams. Alissa is also Principal Investigator of the 1958 National Child Development Study (NCDS), leading the team responsible for developing its content, design and analysis.

Alissa is an economist whose main research interests relate to inequality, poverty, education policy, and the intergenerational transmission of health and well-being.  In her previous employment, she served as deputy director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Contact us

Centre for Longitudinal Studies
UCL Institute of Education

20 Bedford Way
London WC1H 0AL

Email: clsfeedback@ucl.ac.uk