Students from schools across London engaged in the CLS Summer Course: “Harnessing the power of longitudinal research for policy impact” for 7 weeks in June and July.
Here, they reflect on their experience on the course, and how the research they interacted with gave them a better understanding of social, economic and health issues that affect modern society today, as well as how longitudinal research can be used to understand social change across generations.
What have you learned about the value of longitudinal research?
Before this summer course I knew virtually nothing about longitudinal research and its implications in the real world. However, through the summer course at the Centre of Longitudinal Studies (CLS) I have learnt how critical longitudinal research is for impacting policy and everyday life.
Longitudinal research gives insights into people’s lives and experiences, which helps researchers make credible links between early life experiences in childhood and outcomes later in adulthood. Considering how large scale these studies are (The 1958 National child development study has over 17,000 participants) the commitment these researchers take into maintaining engagement with the cohort members to ensure continued participation adds value to the British birth cohorts. Through my time at CLS the participants were never seen as mere numbers or statistics, but as individuals with their own stories and identities which were acknowledged in the studies themselves. These cohort studies held at CLS cover important aspects of people’s identity like ethnicity, class and gender.
Another aspect of these cohort studies which impressed me is the detailed account and frequent follow ups conducted with the cohort members. Not only do longitudinal studies help us to think retrospectively and view how society has changed, but they also allow us to be prospective and evaluate how to improve life and outcomes for all members of society. Longitudinal studies allow us to look at the complexity of people’s lives while taking into account the social context these exist in, for example during the pandemic. This holistic approach leads to more meaningful findings which can be targeted to help assist policy makers create policies which reduce disparities among different minority groups. However, the true value of the British Birth Cohorts comes from the unique aspect of following participants from birth, to see how issues such as employment and mental health develop over the life course.
What have you learned about inequality?
During the summer course, I delved into the subject of university graduates who are first in the family (FiF) to attend university, through developing an infographic on the topic. The research I conducted left me with a deeply shocking realisation, as the data revealed that a significant portion of all university graduates (18%) are FiF .
Interestingly, a higher proportion of FiF tends to come from ethnic minority backgrounds. Young people who are FiF and from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities are more likely to attain a degree compared to their FiF white counterparts. In spite of that, they still remain to be under-represented in prestigious universities, often known as Russell Groups. As someone who hails from an ethnic minority background and is set to be the first in the family to attend university, I believe that students from BAME communities still face a number of additional barriers due to historical and systemic disadvantages, and this is evident from the current research.
It also highlighted that FiF graduates are 5% more likely to choose degrees related to fields such as law, economics, and management (LEM) compared to those who have parents with degrees, and less likely to choose social sciences, arts, and humanities. A finding that intrigued me is that FiF graduates are more likely to drop out from university and not complete their degree, in comparison to those whose parents do have a degree.
Do you think the summer course has changed your mindset or made you think differently?
The Centre for Longitudinal Studies’ (CLS) summer course has broadened my appreciation of longitudinal research. Before I participated, I was aware of some of the key elements relating to the methodology of longitudinal studies, but I knew less about how these studies are used in research that goes on to have impact in the real world. However, with the expertise and guidance of the CLS team, myself and fellow other course members created an infographic, exploring inequalities in adolescent mental health and well-being by ethnicity and sexual identity.
Exploring longitudinal research whilst on the CLS summer course stimulated my interest in social interactions. It allowed me to observe relationships between different variables and characteristics (e.g. ethnicity, social class, sexual identity) and how these interactions affect different outcomes, such as mental health. The summer course exposed me to subjects and topics I had not come across before, therefore expanding my knowledge and interests. For example, the longitudinal research covered on the summer course raised questions such as “what causes social divisions?” and “why do some people attend university and others don’t?”. The summer school also led me to think more deeply about the significance of parliamentary sovereignty, the importance of legislations and how parliamentary processes affect society.
Before attending the summer course, I was quite fascinated about the prospect of learning more about longitudinal studies and the different research that has been conducted. It was interesting to learn about how different factors, sometimes anomalous, can affect a person’s life.
After attending the Children of the Noughties conference and being introduced to the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) data during the conference presentations, I was able to expand my understanding of the importance of longitudinal studies. In particular, the conference demonstrated to me how research using longitudinal data can have an impact on people’s lives over the generations. A lot of complex data was presented to us during the conference, and I enjoyed challenging myself to understand the research conducted using MCS and other cohort data.