In the 1960s, there was a great deal of concern among healthcare professionals about the health and life chances of babies being born in Britain. In February 1966, a group of doctors and scientists met to discuss ways to investigate why this was happening – and what could be done about it.
Starting a birth cohort study was agreed to be the way of findings the answers. Two such studies, which follows a group of people all born at the same point in time throughout their lives, had been started in 1946 and 1958. The 1970 British Cohort Study would be the third in this proud tradition.
In April 1970, a group of doctors, midwives, and health authorities throughout England, Wales and Scotland collected information on 17,000 babies born in a single week in 1970. This was the very first survey of BCS70.
Two years later, the study’s founding directors, Roma Chamberlain and Geoffrey Chamberlain (not related), published the findings from the birth survey. Little did they know, ‘Generation X’, as it is sometimes called, was going to be a special one – and BCS70, one of the most important studies of its kind anywhere in the world.
The generation born in the early 1970s has been shaped by some of the most significant social, political and economic changes in the history of the UK. BCS70 study members represent the first generation to have experienced the full force of the technological revolution and globalisation. Your generation were more likely to go to university than previous generations, and you were the first generation where women were equally likely to get a degree as men. Sometimes called ‘Thatcher’s children’, your childhood years were also shaped by the first female Prime Minister’s influential, yet sometimes controversial policies, and the 1980s economic recession. For these reasons, Generation X is markedly different than the Baby Boomers before you, and the Millennials after you.
Since birth, there have been ten further surveys of the BCS70 study members, at ages 5, 10, 16, 26, 30, 34, 38, 42, 46 and now 51. The study has produced influential findings on health, education, employment, family life, and physical and cognitive development.
The original birth survey was sponsored by the National Birthday Trust Fund in association with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Since then, the study has changed hands a number of times. The Department of Child Health at Bristol University and ran the Age 5 and 10 Surveys, the International Centre for Child Studies ran the Age 16 Survey, and the Social Statistics Research Unit at City University ran the Age 26 Survey.
In 1998, BCS70 came to the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the UCL Institute of Education, where it has been ever since. Today the study receives its core funding from the Economic and Social Research Council.