National Child Development Study/1958 birth cohort
The Perinatal Mortality Survey, 1958
This survey was carried out by midwives attending delivery of 17,000 babies in one week of 1958. It was meant to examine social and obstetric factors associated with stillbirths and death in early infancy. They asked about social and family background, past obstetric history, length and type of labour, pain management used as well physical measurements of the baby.
This was one of four similar studies carried out in 1946, 1970 and 2000/01. Each has followed up the original respondents and become a longitudinal study. A longitudinal study is one where the researchers consistently revisit the same study subjects and get a picture of the shape of their lives as they age.
The National Child Development Study
The NCDS carried out the first resurvey of the Perinatal Mortality Survey in 1965, and has gone one to carry out many surveys over the years. 2008 marks the 50th anniversary of the study - and the 50th birthday of the babies born in 1958.
In the first three surveys (1965, '69 and '74) information was acquired from the children themselves, their parents, schools and the local Authority Medical Officers. Those three surveys also made an effort to include new immigrants who where born in the same week, but overseas. In 1978 emphasis was put on the children's exam results. Having secured new funding to follow the study group as adults, the study was able to follow the children into young adulthood and beyond.
From 1981 onward the now young-adults were interviewed without further information from parents. The next survey in 1991 included any partners, and for half the sample, information was also collected about the cohort members' children. The surveys in 2000, 2004 and 2008 have continued to collect information about the individual cohort members as they move into mid-life.
What has the study found?
There have been well over 1000 articles, chapters, reports and conference papers that reference the research. The findings include:
The study provided some of the earliest insights into the impact of maternal smoking during pregnancy on offspring health. It also informed debate about the best place to deliver babies. More recently, cohort members' DNA has been used to examine possible links between people's genes and common diseases such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
Research using the NCDS has informed a wide range of important issues in education policy. It has shown the value of higher education for individuals in terms of the additional wages they can expect to receive for their higher qualifications.
Research using the NCDS has established that parental separation and divorce can have severe repercussions for children that last well into adult life. Children from disrupted families tend to do less well in school and subsequent careers than their peers and are also more likely to experience he break up of their own partnerships.