Online event: 22 April 2021

Online event recording – transcript


Download the transcript for the recording of our online event (22 April 2021)


Rob Webster  00:04

Hello. A warm welcome from wherever you are to this 1970 British Cohort Study online event, especially for study members. My name is Rob Webster. I’m an Associate Professor based in the UCL Centre for Inclusive Education. I’m one of the presenters of UCL’s Research for the Real World podcast. And I’m delighted to be your moderator and your MC for this evening. Please do use the Q&A feature on Slido to send us your questions and your comments. And we’ll answer as many as we can at the end of the evening. We have a really interesting line-up for you. This evening, we’ll hear from various researchers and staff working on BCS70. We’ll have a chat with your study director, Alice Sullivan, and we’ll update you on exciting plans for a mini BCS70 forest. First of all, it’s over to Alice, the study director, to introduce proceedings. Alice, Good evening.


Alice Sullivan  01:00

Good evening Rob and good evening everybody. First of all, I’d like to wish you all a belated very happy 50th birthday. It’s such a shame that the year didn’t pan out quite as any of us expected. The COVID pandemic has obviously affected all of our lives and plans for BCS70, we’re no exception. So at the start of last year, we had big plans to hold five BCS70 birthday parties across the country. And we were really looking forward to meeting lots of you at those events. And I’m sure you were also really looking forward to meeting each other. And I know it’s not quite the same online. But we’re still really thrilled that so many of you have come tonight, so it’s great to see you.


Rob Webster  01:49

Many thanks, Alice. To mark the study’s 50th anniversary and your amazing 50 year commitment and contribution to science and society, we ran a social media campaign called 50 stories in 50 weeks. We hope you saw it on the BCS70 website or on Twitter or Facebook. If not, here’s a chance to see some highlights in our short animation. So next we’re going to have a chat with Alice about her role and her experiences as the study director of BCS70. Hello again, Alice.


Alice Sullivan  04:34



Rob Webster  04:35

I have a few questions for you, Alice to help us get inside BCS70 and learn more about this jewel in the crown of British social science and your association with it. So first of all, can you tell us how you first came across the 1970 British Cohort Study?


Alice Sullivan  04:52

It was when I was a postdoctoral researcher at Oxford University in the early 2000s. I had just finished my PhD and I was interested in educational inequalities and socioeconomic inequalities. So the reasons why kids from poorer backgrounds didn’t do so well in school, and the repercussions for that in their lives. And I started doing some work on the 1958 cohort study. So I’m sure lots of the cohort members will know that theirs isn’t the first cohort and one of the amazing things about these studies actually, is that Britain is unique in having a series of studies that goes so far back. So there’s the 1946 cohort, the 1958 cohort, and then the 1970. And then, of course, subsequently, we had the millennium cohort. So I was using the 1958 cohort to look at the kinds of schools that people went to, and how much that affected inequalities in their exam results. And I thought it would be a really good idea to follow that up by looking at the 1970 cohort. But I found that there was a bit of a problem because of course, in 1986, when we found out about the secondary schools, and teenage experiences of cohort members, there was a major school strike on. So there was this big strike on and teachers didn’t return the information about the schools. And so for, for a large proportion, we didn’t know what type of school they went to. And that was something that I found that really annoying, because I wanted to use the 1970 cohort for my research. And so when I actually became study director and had the honour of actually being in charge of the study, in 2010, one of the first things I wanted to do was to sort that out. And so then in 2012, when the cohort members were 42, they might have been a bit surprised to be asked, “What kind of secondary school did you go to?”. But that was one of the first questions I knew I needed to ask in order to repair that data record. In order to not just so I could do my own research, which I did, looking at the effects of grammar schools and private schools, on both educational outcomes and economic outcomes.  But so that lots of other researchers could use it too, because obviously, these cohort studies have been such a powerful resource for looking at educational attainment and social mobility among many, many other things.


Rob Webster  07:34

Alice, you mentioned missing data there, which can be a bit of an issue in any research study. There’s a bit of a gap, isn’t there, in BCS70? Because there was no surveys between the mid 80s and the mid 90s, when the participants were between the ages of 16 and 26. Can you tell us why that was? And what, if any, effects that has had on the study?


Alice Sullivan  07:58

Yes. So I mean, nowadays, of course, we assume that these studies are going to be funded regularly. And that it’s, you know, funders and government understand how important these studies are, and will back them up. But it wasn’t quite like that back in the 80s. So it was a really tough climate for social science research. Obviously, this is back in the Thatcher era. And, you know, whatever the pros and cons of that, it certainly wasn’t great for social science research. And so it was really that there was a hole in the funding. And so yeah, this crucial period between the ages of 16 and 26. I mean, one of the things about that is, of course, it’s the time in people’s lives when they tend to leave home and so you have a change of address, and then you’re losing touch with people, and you’re thinking, will we ever get them back? I say “you’re thinking”, I mean, obviously I wasn’t there at the time! People sometimes ask me that as though I’m some kind of prodigy. Obviously, it would have been Neville Butler at the time, as PI, worrying about that. But also you miss some very major milestones in terms of people’s educational attainment and first jobs. So yeah, it’s a real shame. But nevertheless, we have retained so many people in the study, and some people who have been lost have come back. So I think that’s actually it’s quite amazing the resilience of the study.


Rob Webster  09:31

Indeed. BCS70 has come to include the collection of biomedical data. Can you tell us what biomedical data are and why they are important?


Alice Sullivan  09:43

‘Biomedical data’ sounds rather technical. But really, it’s just – I mean, most of the time we’re asking survey questions – and biomedical data, it’s just anything that’s medical. We had funding from the Medical Research Council to go out and take blood samples from the cohort members, do things like weigh them and measure them, which we hadn’t actually done since they were much younger. And also, one of the really nice things that we were able to do with something called accelerometry, which was asking people to wear a thigh-worn device, which measured not just their activity, but also their sedentary behaviour. So how much time is spent sitting down or lying down. And these kinds of data are so important to understanding people’s health and wellbeing. So for example, on the accelerometry, that’s produced a wealth of research, showing that it’s not just how much exercise you do. Regardless of how much active exercise you do – going to the gym, or running or whatever it is – the time you spend sitting down, is actually bad for you, even if you exercise, and bad for you not just in terms of your physical health, but also your mental health. So that’s kind of worrying for those of us who’ve been sitting down a lot for the last year. But those kind of findings are so important. And also the fact that we can relate them to people’s past experiences, and to their social and economic and family circumstances makes it so powerful.


Rob Webster  11:24

Indeed. Alice, let’s talk a little bit about the research that you yourself, have done using BCS70. And that’s to investigate one of your research interests, on reading for pleasure. So we saw it flashed up a little bit in the presentation just a moment ago. Can you tell us first of all, what is reading for pleasure, and tell us why it matters.


Alice Sullivan  11:50

So reading for pleasure is just reading that you do for fun, because you want to do it. So reading that’s not work or homework. And it matters because – well, as we found in our research, it matters because it exposes you to new vocabulary. And it improves your learning in the round. So we looked at people’s reading, kids reading for pleasure, up to age 10, and how that affected their vocabulary and maths outcomes at age 16. And we found that it wasn’t just that bright kids read more. But the kids that read more, make more progress over time. And that’s what’s so powerful about this life course data. People kind of knew, “well, yeah, obviously, the bright kids in a class at school are more likely to do more reading”. But that doesn’t show that it’s the reading that’s making them brighter. So we were able to show that the ones who are reading are actually pulling ahead over time. And the difference made was enormous. So it’s four times more powerful than having a parent with a university degree.


Rob Webster  13:01

Really? Impressive! You mentioned that there were maths outcomes in there as well. And one of the things that you found was that there are improvements in outcomes for maths as well as reading – which you might expect – but the maths bit might surprise people. So can you explain that – what’s going on there – for us?


Alice Sullivan  13:21

Yeah, the maths part did surprise people. I think people understood that of course, if you’re reading, you’re introducing new vocabulary, so of course, your vocabulary scores will improve. But I think it’s actually not that surprising that it leads to improvements across the curriculum. Because what it means is, you can read your textbooks in maths or any other subject and understand what the teacher is saying and what’s going on. And it just removes the barrier that’s there for kids that don’t read so well. I think there’s also something to be said for the concentration and the independent learning that goes with reading independently.


Rob Webster  13:59

And of course, you’ve highlighted the value of these datasets rolling on across the life course. So what do we know about the long term effects of reading for pleasure?


Alice Sullivan  14:13

So we actually followed up with a vocabulary test that the cohort members probably won’t remember doing in 1986, when they were 16. We gave them the same vocabulary test at 42 – which is quite fun, because we were able to see how many more words they’d learned, and they had learned lots of new words. So they, you know, they were continuing to learn, of course – because learning doesn’t stop when you leave school or education – and reading for pleasure continued to have an impact. So both the reading that they had done as kids continued to have an impact on their vocabulary development, but also the reading they were doing as adults, and it matters how much they read for pleasure, but also what they read. And so it was more kind of sophisticated fiction – that you would imagine would have more different words in it – that obviously then had a bigger impact on the number of words that people could answer correctly.


Rob Webster  15:11

Sure. Alice, as we know, yourself and other colleagues at UCL and across across the world indeed make use of the BCS70 data. Can you explain why it is so popular with such a wide range of researchers?


Alice Sullivan  15:28

I think it’s partly because we make the data available to bona fide researchers all over the world. And that’s not universally done in social research. So we’ve made real efforts not to kind of keep the data for ourselves and just get our own publications out of it – but to really maximise the scientific value. Because this doesn’t belong to us, you know – it is produced by the people who take part and it belongs to everybody, to society, and should be maximised. And also, I think because it’s multidisciplinary. So as someone who was interested in educational inequalities, I came to the cohort studies, but you also have medics, psychologists, economists, people from across the social science and health disciplines, and they can all find rich data that they can use. Also looking at different life stages. So if you’re interested in child development, then you can use BCS70. And if you’re interested in midlife – and of course, as the cohort gets older, it will become increasingly used by people who are interested in healthy ageing. So it’s such a wide range of purposes, and also the interrelationships between those different fields of life. So being able to look at not just health, and not just social life and economic life and family life, but the interrelationships between all of those areas.


Rob Webster  17:04

Alice, we were talking about the half century, just gone, but let’s have a think about what’s coming up in terms of BCS70 research in the years ahead. Is there anything in the pipeline, that’s exciting you?


Alice Sullivan  17:20

I think that COVID is going to be on the minds of researchers for a good few years yet. I want to thank all the cohort members who took part in the three COVID surveys between May 2020 and March 2021, we really appreciated that. There are around 30,000 people across the five studies that we have in the centre who completed at least one of those COVID studies, so that’s incredibly impressive. And the data is already helping researchers look at important issues like mental health, parents’ involvement in homeschooling – which I’m sure lots of people have experienced – the kind of various economic difficulties that people have faced, and all the rest of it. So I think that’s really important. But what’s particularly important about BCS70 – and being able to look at that given the context. Of course, there’s loads of COVID studies going on at the moment, but what’s different about BCS70 is that we’ll be following the cohort members for years to come. Because there will be long term, no doubt, long term effects, not just short term effects. How deep will the scars run? How quickly will we recover? Will there be any positives in the long term? So these are the kinds of questions that we’ll be able to answer.


Rob Webster  18:45

Again, it underscores the real value of this and the remarkable contribution that participants are going to be making in the future with the data that you’ve just collected. So with that kind of thought of achievements in mind, what are the many achievements of BCS70 that stand out for you? What are the kinds of things that participants can feel most proud of?


Alice Sullivan  19:10

I think the scientific contribution is really enormous. So there’s been over 1,000 scientific publications that have come out of BCS70 to date. And one thing I would really stress is the way that the level of research that comes out of the study keeps growing year on year. So in 1975, for example, there were two publications that came out of BCS70. In 2010, there were 54. In 2020, there were 80. So, as we add to the data, the value just grows. People don’t stop using the information from birth and the early years. They keep using that information and they just add to it as they look at a longer time span and a wider range of research questions. So it is difficult to pick out individual studies because I think it’s this incredible sweep over time. And one thing that I think is really important that I haven’t talked about so far, is the ability to compare generations. And so we can’t see the value of the 1970 cohort in isolation. Its value is even greater because it’s part of this unique British series that no other country has. And that’s been really valuable for people looking at things like education and social mobility, but also people looking at physical health and mental health. And it’s not just comparisons with the earlier generations, but perhaps even more so the comparisons with the millennium cohort, really highlight the way that our society has changed in a way that you wouldn’t be able to show if you didn’t have 1970 as that kind of baseline. So for example, we know that in the millennium cohort, the young people are quite likely to be overweight in their teenage years. Because we’ve got 1970, we know that wasn’t always the case. We know that that’s a real social change, which happened in the 80s. And we can pinpoint it – that that’s when the obesity epidemic started to affect everybody at whatever point they were, at whatever age they were at that point, that’s when people started getting overweight. Similarly, when we look at the crisis in mental health, we know that for young girls in particular in the millennium cohort, their mental health in teenage years, is getting worse at such a young age. And it’s much worse than it was for the 1970 cohort. So again, these things have really important policy implications because people can say with confidence: “This is not what the world was always like, this is a real social change.”


Rob Webster  22:05

And that’s a nice check and balance, isn’t it, on people’s perceptions of the past? It enables us to kind of hold a mirror up to the past as it was, not how we might like it to have been. Alice, thank you so much for sharing your experiences and insights with us. And we will see you again very shortly. Thank you. We’re going to hear now from some of Alice’s colleagues, the wide range of brilliant researchers and the superb staff who work on the BCS70 study. You have of course, recently celebrated your 51st birthday – happy birthday for me, by the way – and some of the team here at UCL wanted to send you a message. We’re also going to hear in the next bit from an early career researcher Dawid Gondek, who’s done some important research using the data from your study.


Mark Hamer  23:00

Hello, my name is Mark Hamer. I’m a Professor of Sport and Exercise Medicine at UCL. Unfortunately, I was the person that made you wear those rather irritating devices on your thighs a few years ago to record your physical activity. I just like to say that the data have been incredibly valuable to us in trying to understand how physical activity patterns relate to various health indicators. So I’d just like to wish you a massive happy birthday. And thank you for your tremendous continued support of the study.


Bozena Wielgoszewska  23:35

Happy birthday. My name is Bozena and I’m a researcher at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies. I first started using the British Cohort Study data for my PhD which investigated university graduates’ social mobility. I now work on several projects. One of them looks at the gender pay gap at different points of the life course. And another one explores the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on substance use and health behaviours, such as diet, exercise, and sleep. So thank you very much for continually sharing your lives with us. None of this research would have happened without you.


Richard Steele  24:11

Hello my name is Richard Steele. I work in the comms team here at UCL supporting your study, and three other cohort studies. A big thank you for taking part in BCS70 research all these years, and wishing you a very happy birthday.


Justine Goy  24:28

Happy birthday BCS70! Hello, my name is Justine and I’m the Communications and Events Officer at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies. Along with the rest of the Comms team, I help put together the birthday mailers that we sent you every year. I keep the BCS70 website up to date and post on the BCS70 Facebook page and also help to organise events such as this one. I’ve only been in this role for a little over a year, but I’ve just been amazed with your commitment and dedication to the study. I’d like to say a very big thank you from the entire team. And please keep up the good work. Thank you!


Dawid Gondek  25:14

Okay, hi, I’m Dawid Gondek. I’m a public health researcher, currently based at the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London. I’ve been with working with the 1970 British Birth Cohort already for almost five years. I started working with this great resource during my PhD. And now I carry on working with the data in my postdoc. My main interests are in how mental health changes over time  – that is, how it develops with age, but also how it changes across generations. So I do cross-cohort comparisons where I compare the mental health of participants of the 1970 cohort, to participants of older birth cohorts in the UK such as the 1958 or 1946 birth cohort. So in terms of published research, based on the 1970 birth cohort, I think probably the most interesting study of my PhD was where I compared the mental health of participants in the 1970 cohort in adulthood to those of older cohorts – the 1946 and 1958 cohorts. And what we found was that those born in 1970 had higher levels of distress, of symptoms of depression and anxiety, than the two other cohorts during the whole adulthood. And what this cross-cohort comparison helps us to do is to speculate and also study specific reasons for the increase in the distress across generations. So, for example, when members of the 1970 cohort were reaching their adulthood, unemployment was particularly high, and inequality has been rising over the time, and this might be particularly difficult for them to enter the labour market, and that might have put them in a relatively disadvantaged position for their adulthood. But thanks to the birth cohorts, thanks to those studies of trends over time, we are aware of this issue and we understand that the levels of distress are rising over time. So hopefully, we can then study further the reasons for it and act on these reasons – so to introduce some preventive measures, so that as those cohorts reach their older age, their mental health hopefully will be better. So I think it’s a fantastic resource. And I find myself very lucky that I had the chance to work with it, and I will definitely work as far as I can. So thank you a lot for your participation.


Rob Webster  27:55

Now, as you may imagine, every survey the team undertakes requires an incredible amount of work in terms of preparation. We’re going to hear now from Matt Brown, who is BCS70’s Senior Survey Manager, who organises and oversees all of that essential work.


Matt Brown  28:12

Hello, I’m Matt Brown, and I’m Senior Survey Manager at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies. I work in the Survey Team at CLS who are responsible for designing, planning and implementing the BCS70 surveys and also the surveys that we run with the other cohort studies that we run in our centre. I joined the BCS70 team close to 15 years ago now. In my previous job, I worked for one of the large UK social research organisations, managing surveys mostly for government departments. And during this time, I heard a lot about the birth cohort studies run at CLS and was fascinated about the idea of these unique studies following participants throughout the course of their lives. So when I saw the opportunity to apply for a job in the Survey Team, I jumped at the chance. When I first joined the team, preparations for the Age 38 telephone survey were underway. So one of my first tasks was to help to design the questionnaire that will be used in that survey. And designing questionnaires is one of the key responsibilities of the survey team. It’s a very lengthy process, which can be quite challenging, but it’s always very interesting. The process begins with a consultation exercise where we ask the research and policy community to suggest the most important topics that should be covered. It’s always the case that we receive far more suggestions than we could possibly include. So we have to make difficult decisions about what should be prioritised. As study members get older, and as times change, there are of course new topics that become increasingly important, but repeating the same questions over time is one of the key ways in which we can find out about how your lives have changed. So we need to find the right balance between covering new topics and repeating previous questions. And we’re also keen to make sure that the key questions we ask in BCS70 are as similar as possible to the questions that we ask in some of our other cohort studies, which are following other generations, so that we can understand how your experiences differ from the experiences of those who are both younger and older than you. And we know that every minute our interviewers spend with you is precious. So it’s vital that we make the right decisions about which questions make the cut so that we can make sure that we collect the information that is needed to allow important research to take place. Once we’ve agreed on the questionnaire, we’ll always conduct a series of pilot studies where we test the questionnaire. Our aim is to make sure that everything is running smoothly before we contact you, so that your experience of taking part is as positive as possible. And the whole process of developing and testing one of our larger surveys takes around two years. As you know, over the last year, we’ve been asking you to complete a series of surveys where we’ve asked you about how your lives have been affected by the COVID pandemic. We’ve had to develop these surveys much more rapidly, which has been quite a change and quite a challenge. We’re really grateful to all of you for taking part in these. The information that you’ve provided has already been used for vital research into the impacts of the pandemic on participants, and will be used a lot more in the coming months and years. We’re also really grateful to those of you who’ve agreed to take part in our COVID antibody testing project. You should hopefully have received your test kits by now. So please do send them back as soon as you can. We’re also really looking forward to launching our next major survey. We were all ready to launch the Age 50 Survey last summer, but the pandemic put paid to that. We’ll now be launching what we’re calling the Life in Your Early 50s Survey in a couple of months’ time. Initially, we’ll only be inviting people to take place via video call. But we hope that we’ll be able to start visiting you at home as usual from later in the year. We’ll be writing to some of you about this very soon. But we’ll be sending out the invitations gradually, so some of you won’t hear from us until next year. You will hear from us eventually! We’re really looking forward to talking to you again. Running the surveys is a big team effort, and the Survey Team is just one part of the picture. We also have our Cohort Maintenance Team who look after the confidential database on which we hold your contact details. The Cohort Maintenance Team also answer your queries when you get in touch, and they’ll also try to find you if you move and we can’t get in touch with you. We have our Data Team who look after the data that you provide in the surveys and make it available to researchers for use. And we have our Communications Team who write the letters and leaflets that we send to you. They maintain our websites and write news articles and social media posts about study findings and organise events that we run, such as this one. And of course, we have our team of researchers who make use of the data that you provide for important research. And all of us at CLS are enormously grateful for the time that you’ve all given to this incredible study. And I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you ever so much.


Rob Webster  33:11

And thank you, Matt. And Matt will be joining us live a little later to help answer your questions. So if you do have anything you’d like to ask Matt or Alice, please do use the Q&A on Slido. Now as you’ll no doubt have seen in the letter that came recently with your birthday card, we have an exciting announcement about the mini BCS70 forest. So here’s Alice again, once again to tell us more. Alice?


Alice Sullivan  33:39

Well, to mark your amazing 50 year contribution to the study, we decided to plant a woodland. It seemed like a fitting symbol, especially given that we had to cancel the parties that we had wanted to do. Trees, like the study, are a resource which will keep growing and be of benefit for future generations. Thinking about where to plant the woodland, we decided that the Forest of Bowland was the most symbolically appropriate place because it contains the geographic centre of Great Britain. So it’s the most central forest. And of course, for those of you who’ve been to the Forest of Bowland, it’s a very beautiful place and there’s a lovely pub and I hope that some of you will get the chance to visit. Of course, nowhere would be convenient for everybody, but we hope some of you will be able to make it there. The Comms Team have been working with a local group to find a great site for the trees. And they’re just weighing up a shortlist of two sites, and we’re hoping to plant at least 50 trees. It will be at least 50 trees to celebrate the 50th anniversary. And that will be in the autumn, and there will be some kind of dedication to the study there. So probably a bench, or something along those lines, and it will be near a free car park. So we hope that that will be something nice that people can enjoy in future years. And we’ll keep you updated on that over the coming months.


Rob Webster  35:46

Alice, thank you for that. That’s marvellous. Well, I only learned about this this week, and when I heard that the forest was going to be situated in the Forest of Bowland, I thought: “That’s very fitting, isn’t it, for people who were born in the 70s.” And then I looked it up earlier, it’s got nothing to do with Marc Bolan at all. So that’s enough of my general ignorance. Let’s welcome back Matt Brown at this point, because we’re going to take some questions now from you. I’m just going to open the chat box so I can see them. And so in our final section, we’re going to attempt to answer as many of your questions as we can in the time available. So you’ll see in Slido that there are some questions that the team have addressed already. Matt, Alice, thank you for joining us, again. The questions are coming in. The first one is for you, Alice, I think. What types of organisations use the information that you get from all the different cohort studies?


Alice Sullivan  36:46

Oh, wow. It’s a huge range of types of organisations because it’s such a huge range of research. So government certainly use information on all different branches of government. I know from my own research that the people like the Department for Education and the Social Mobility Commission certainly use it, but also, you know, the Department of Health and across government departments, but also across the third sector. So the research that Matt and I did on reading for pleasure was taken up by every major literacy organisation, as well as the Department for Education. You know, research that’s been done on childhood is obviously, you know, people like the National Children’s Bureau, lots of youth charities, mental health charities, etc, etc. So it’s a very long list.


Rob Webster  37:43

Sorry, my computer’s told me, it reminded me of a meeting that I’ve got tomorrow afternoon, which is entirely unhelpful, so thanks for interrupting us like that, Teams! Matt, here’s one for you: how many people are still actively participating in the study at the age of 50, compared to when it started?


Matt Brown  38:01

Okay, so, in the very first wave of the study, which took place in 1970, as you all very well know, we collected information about just short of 17,500 of you. We’re still in touch now with around 12,000 study members, which is absolutely amazing, close to, you know, over 50 years later. In our most recent survey, which took place a couple of years ago – well, which finished in 2018 – we had close to 9,000 take part in that. We’ll just –as I mentioned in my video – we’ll be launching the Age – well, what was to be the Age 50 Survey, now to be – we’ve had to kind of rebrand it slightly as the Life in Your Early 50s Survey, given the delay that we’ve had. And so we’re very much hoping that as many of you as possible will be happy to take part this time around – hopefully even more than last time.


Rob Webster  39:16

I just wonder whether – as you’re saying that, Matt – do you think this is a bit of a habit for life? I mean, if people are doing it – they’ve come this far at 51. I mean, that’s remarkable. I mean, that’s a routine thing that you do throughout your life – it seems like these very good people are going to stick it out for a very long time.


Matt Brown  39:37

Well, we all very much hope that that’s the case indeed.


Rob Webster  39:41

Here’s to another 50 years, eh?


Matt Brown  39:43



Rob Webster  39:45

Alice, here’s one for you. I think given what you told us earlier about the amount of work that has been produced from the data, this is a maybe an unfair question for you. But what do you think is the most significant discovery that’s been made due to the study?


Alice Sullivan  40:03

Oh, god, this is an awful question. Who gave me this question? Aren’t these questions meant to be filtered, so they aren’t too difficult for me to answer? [laughs] It’s just such a hard question. I mean, there has been so much influential work that’s gone on with 1970 and also, in comparison with the other cohorts as well. And obviously, I’ve mentioned some of them already. I’ll just mention another – I don’t want to – anything that I said was “the” most important – would just feel wrong. But I’ll just mention another influential study that hasn’t come up so far, which is the work that Sam Parsons and John Bynner did on adult basic skills, which showed how people with poor basic skills in literacy and numeracy – the massive impact that that had on their lives, not just on their economic lives, but their family lives, their wellbeing and so on. And that was really influential in terms of government policy and adult learning. Some of you might remember the Gremlins literacy campaign from probably about 20 years ago or something now, but that was a really important study. Alongside all the ones that I’ve already mentioned.


Rob Webster  41:28

I do remember that actually, now you mention it – the Gremlins stuff. Matt, one for you: are new cohorts of people being recruited regularly? And do they do the same types of testing?


Matt Brown  41:41

Okay, so at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, so we run four cohorts. We’ve got the the slightly older 1958 cohort. Then we have the 1970 cohort. Our next youngest cohort is following participants who were born in around the beginning of the 90s – so that’s the Next Steps cohort. And then we have the Millennium Cohort Study, our youngest cohort who were born at the turn of the millennium. In terms of whether we do the same types of testing – and absolutely, that’s fundamental. We always try to ensure that the questions that we ask in the studies are harmonised across the studies. That gives us a really powerful way of exploring how the experiences and circumstances of the different generations have changed. And we also work very closely with international collaborators who are running similar studies in other countries, following different generations of different ages. And also make efforts to ensure that the measures that we include in our surveys are comparable internationally as well, so that we can make comparisons there, too.


Rob Webster  43:00

Thank you, Matt. So this is an interesting one. I hope we’re not going to be in breach of GDPR or data protection with this one. Maybe both of you can have a go. But somebody would like to know, have you ever met any of us in person?


Alice Sullivan  43:16

Absolutely, yes. Occasionally, a cohort member will pop up, you know, you’re giving a presentation or something and someone comes up at the end and says: “Oh, I’m in that study.” And it’s always a delight, to meet people who are in the study. And just so lovely to see, you know, people’s enthusiasm.


Rob Webster  43:35

Matt, have you met anybody from the study?


Matt Brown  43:37

I was just – I don’t think that I have actually, no. One day, hopefully. Yes.


Rob Webster  43:47

Okay, um, so this next question there, Alice, perhaps you can go first with this one. The cohort studies that you’re doing for 1946, 58, 1970 and the Millennium study? Are they all done for the same one week in April?


Alice Sullivan  44:04

No, they’re not all done in the same week. And actually, for the Millennium Cohort, the study design changed so that instead of everyone being surveyed in one week, the data collection went over a whole year – longer than a whole year, actually. Which obviously makes things a bit more complicated, but it does give more time for the fieldwork to happen. It also has some really nice advantages methodologically because you’re then able to look at things like month of birth effects. So the fact that kids who were young for that year group do worse in school, which is quite a powerful effect on people’s educational attainment, actually. So that’s really nice. And just being able to look at child development in months, rather than having everybody born in the same month has actually been a really nice feature of the Millennium Cohort.


Rob Webster  45:01

Matt, here’s one for you as Senior Survey Manager. This is from somebody who lives abroad. So do you know how many cohort participants live outside the UK?


Matt Brown  45:14

Yes. So as I mentioned, a moment ago, we started out with around 18 – yeah, 17,500 babies born in Britain. To the best of our knowledge, around 1,800 are now living overseas. Yeah, most of our surveys have been based around face to face visits. So unfortunately, it’s not often practical for us to involve people living overseas in our surveys. In the COVID surveys that we’ve just done – those were online web surveys, so we were really pleased to be able to invite those living overseas to take part and we were really pleased that a significant number of people living overseas did choose to do so. And as the study goes forward, it’s likely that we’ll make more use of online data collection. So we hope that we’ll be able to collect more information from those living overseas. And that would be really fascinating to see how the lives of those who have moved out of Britain might differ from those who’ve remained.


Rob Webster  46:24

I should say that we’ve had so many questions. Apologies everybody, we can’t answer them all. We’ll just take a couple more. I’ve got a COVID related one for you in a moment, Matt, but, and we’re just going to put this one to Alice. This is about data storage. So where are all the data stored? And can we as participants have access to it?


Alice Sullivan  46:46

So if you’re a researcher, then you would go via the UK Data Archive to get access to the data. But as a study member, you can request your own data from the CLS team. And I think there are instructions on how to do that on the CLS website.


Rob Webster  47:14

Thank you, Alice. And perhaps we’ll make this one the last one. And actually, there was another one that’s just come in. Maybe we’ll make that the last one. It’s an interesting one. Anyway, this one’s for you, Matt. This is COVID related. So this person who is asking is doing the antibody testing, but have already had my first jab. Can you tell if the antibodies present are because of the vaccine? Or if I’ve had COVID?


Matt Brown  47:44

That’s a good question. So we will be sending participants the results of the antibody tests that we do. The result that we’ll be sending to participants will only tell you whether the laboratory identified COVID antibodies in the blood. Those antibodies may be present as a result of having been vaccinated, or they may be present as a result of having had COVID. But the information that we’ll get from the lab will be quite detailed. And we hope in time to be able to distinguish between antibodies which are present from being vaccinated and antibodies present through having had the virus. But this is going to require quite a lot of detailed analysis. And it’s going to take some time. And at the moment, there’s quite a lot of uncertainty around how these detailed results that we’ll get from the lab should be interpreted. So we’re not going to be able to provide information to participants which will allow – which will tell either way, unfortunately. But the information that we’re going to get is going to be incredibly useful. And we do hope to be able to distinguish in time.


Rob Webster  49:04

Thank you, Matt. I’ve got two more questions. Let me make the last one for Alice. So I’m going to ask this one. Direct this one to you, Matt. But apparently lots of people have asked – it’s a bit morbid. How many cohort members have passed away?


Matt Brown  49:19

So again, to the best of my knowledge – to the best of our knowledge – around 1,200 of the 17,500 who took part in the first wave have died. The vast majority of those happened very early on. I think it was around 500 to 600 – I’m maybe slightly out with that number, forgive me – died within the first year of life. And then the remainder have been sort of, you know, spread throughout the remaining times. About 1200 have sadly died.


Rob Webster  50:04

So a lot of people that are 51, sat at home thinking of death. Let’s try and end on a bit more of a positive note. So Alice, last question to you. How long is this study likely to go on for?


Alice Sullivan  50:18

We always say it’s a cradle to grave study. So you’re not getting out of this lightly basically! [laughs] There’s no end date. Of course, if you look at the older cohorts – the 1946 cohort is still going. Of course, there will come a point where, well, there aren’t enough people left and we will have to call it a day. But I think there are so many important questions, actually, as people get older, and of course, the life expectancy increasing. So I think we are going to be studying this cohort for a good long time yet.


Rob Webster  51:02

Marvellous. Thank you very much, both of you, for fielding those questions from our excellent BCS70 participants. And with that, that brings us to the the end of a very lively hour. Thank you so much for your company, and your contributions this evening. Some excellent questions coming in. And of course, for your continued commitment to the study. It’s a remarkable and it’s a highly valued role that you play and I for one salute you. So just a reminder that we are recording the video parts of this event, not the Slido content, and that video will be available to you in the coming weeks. So that’s it from me, thank you for your company. And I will hand back to Alice now for a final farewell.


Alice Sullivan  51:49

I just want to thank you again for your amazing contribution to science and to social science over so many years. It’s a really inspiring act, I think, that so many people are giving up their time, not for any individual gain, but to be part of something bigger and to give something to science, to understanding, to knowledge – to our understanding of ourselves as a society in a particular place over a long period of time. I think you should be incredibly proud of yourselves. It’s an amazing thing to do. And I hope that you will all continue to be part of this study, and have many more happy years – probably happier than this COVID year – and celebrate many more birthdays to come.