1958 National Child Development Study

1958 British birth cohort study

The 1958 National Child Development Study (NCDS) follows the lives of 17,415 people born in England, Scotland and Wales in a single week of 1958.

NCDS started in 1958 as the Perinatal Mortality Survey.

The initial birth survey captured information on 17,415 babies born in a single week – or 98 per cent of total births across England, Scotland and Wales. Since then, the cohort has been followed up ten times at ages 7, 11, 16, 23, 33, 42, 44, 46, 50, and most recently at age 55, when 9,137 cohort members took part. The next survey will take place in 2018 when the cohort members are age 60.

The main data collection methods used during the study have included questionnaires, cognitive assessments, clinical assessments and nurse measurements.

Questionnaires have been used to gather a variety of information about study members, including social and family background, mental health and wellbeing, income and housing, and marriage and employment status.

Cognitive assessments have measured verbal and language ability in childhood, as well as literacy and numeracy from adolescence into later life.

Medical examinations and nurse measurements have provided information about bone development in the early years to heart problems in middle age. The study has also collected blood samples to see how people’s health is linked to their genes.

NCDS has made influential discoveries about every stage of life.

Some of the first research using NCDS uncovered the wide-reaching negative effects of mothers’ smoking during pregnancy.

It has tracked the lives of study members to reveal how the different educational and other paths people take affect their wages, jobs, relationships, and health later in life. It has also been used to uncover genetic risks for a range of diseases.

And, today the 1958 cohort is one of the best resources for understanding how retirement and ageing are changing in Britain.

Sample design

NCDS was designed to examine the social and obstetric factors associated with stillbirth and death in early infancy. The sample consists of all those born in England, Scotland and Wales in one particular week in March 1958, until they die or permanently emigrate from Britain.

Sample boosts

In the first three sweeps the target sample was augmented to include immigrants born in the same week. At age 7 there were 375 new immigrants added, 273 at 11 and 270 at 16.

Linked data

The 1978 public examinations records of study members including have been linked to the survey and widely used. Records on study member deaths have also been linked. Study members gave consent to link the survey to the health and economic records of cohort members in 2008, and the Centre for Longitudinal Studies is currently working to obtain access to health records for England, Scotland and Wales, and to obtain tax, employment, and benefit records and with HMRC and DWP. A number of geographic identifiers are available under secure conditions, so that geographic data may also be linked.

Management and funding

The NCDS is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and is managed by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies.

Accessing the data

The majority of NCDS survey data can be accessed by bona fide researchers through the UK Data Service at the University of Essex. Anyone wishing to access the data will need to register with the UK Data Service before downloading. Some datasets are only available via Special Licence, or via the UK Data Service Secure Lab. Access arrangements comply with ESRC Research Data Policy.

Data from the biomedical sweep collected in 2002/3, including most data generated from the biological samples is available via Special License.

Access to the majority of genotypes generated from NCDS participants, linked to gender and region only is governed by the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium Data Access Committee.

Access to genotypes linked to other variables, applications for access to DNA, and for new uses of biological samples is via the Access Committee for CLS Cohorts.

Research metadata, including basic frequencies, is available using NESSTAR at the UK Data Service. The CLS website provides copies of the questionnaires and documentation used in the study.

Cohort profile

Chris Power, Jane Elliott; Cohort profile: 1958 British birth cohort (National Child Development Study). Int J Epidemiol 2006; 35 (1): 34-41. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyi183

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