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 most recent NCDS sweep, at age 62, was 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 latest sweep, at age 62, is now complete. Click on a sweep below to learn more about the information collected.

COVID-19 survey and data

Data from all three waves of our survey of five national longitudinal cohort studies, including NCDS, are now available. Find out about the topics covered, response and how to access the data.

Find out more

Response and handling missing data

View the level of response for every major NCDS sweep and read our guidance on handling missing data.

Find out more

Celebrating the first 60 years of NCDS

This short film and this commemorative book tell the story of one of the longest running and most important studies of its kind in the world.

Latest from NCDS

News

What children write about may predict future mental health

Children who express positive thoughts and feelings in their creative writing are less likely to show symptoms of depression at the age of 23, according to research led by Chapman University in California.  
News

Being an only child doesn’t affect children’s development

Being an only child doesn’t affect your development – family background matters more.
News

Pandemic may have triggered second ‘midlife crisis’ in mental health for over-50s, study finds

British adults aged 50 and above experienced their highest-ever levels of mental ill health during the COVID-19 pandemic, even surpassing the well-known peak in midlife, according to new research published in PLOS Medicine.
News

Generational inequalities in mental health accelerated with the COVID-19 pandemic

Mental health problems like anxiety and depression were more common among younger generations before the COVID-19 outbreak — but the gap between young and old became even wider during the pandemic, according to new research based on five UK longitudinal studies.

Cohort profile

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

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 coordination, 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.

Partnership histories

Partnership histories are available in a longitudinal dataset which contains information about live-in partnerships lasting one month or more, from age 33 to 55.

The dataset includes data on partnership type (cohabitation and/or marriage), start and end dates, duration, outcome and if relevant whether divorced and divorce dates. A similar dataset is available for BCS70, which enables users to conduct cross-cohort comparisons.

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 62 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 62 sweep will also measure cognition, as will future sweeps, allowing for the study of changes in cognition associated with ageing.

Linked administrative data

In the Age 50 Sweep, cohort members were asked for consent to link health and economic data to the survey data. Cohort members were able to agree to both, one or neither.

Some data have now been linked and are available to access through the UK Data Service:

Health
Linked health data are available from Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) in England for 1997-2017 (accident and emergency, admitted patient care, critical care, and outpatient). Linked health data from Scottish Medical Records (SMR) for 2000-2015 (outpatient, inpatient and day care, maternity, Prescribing Information System) will be available soon.

Future data linkage
We are currently applying to refresh the HES linkages which will include COVID-19 data and plan to also refresh the SMR records.

We are pursuing linkages to records kept by the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue & Customs, including about benefit claims, participation in employment programmes, jobs, earnings, tax and National Insurance.

 

 

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

George Ploubidis Professor of Population Health and Statistics and Principal Investigator of the National Child Development Study and 1970 British Cohort Study

Phone: 020 7612 6107
Email: g.ploubidis@ucl.ac.uk

George is Professor of Population Health and Statistics at the UCL Social Research Institute and currently holds the posts of Principal Investigator of the National Child Development Study and 1970 British Cohort Study at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies. Prior to joining UCL he held posts at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of Cambridge. George is a multidisciplinary quantitative social scientist and a longitudinal population surveys methodologist. His main research interests relate to socioeconomic and demographic determinants of health over the life course and the mechanisms that underlie generational differences in health and mortality. His methodological work in longitudinal surveys focusses on applications for handling missing data, causal inference and measurement error.

Contact us

Centre for Longitudinal Studies
UCL Social Research Institute

20 Bedford Way
London WC1H 0AL

Email: clsdata@ucl.ac.uk

Follow us