1970 British Cohort Study

The 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70) follows the lives of 17,198 people born in England, Scotland and Wales in a single week of 1970.

BCS70 began as the British Births Survey (BBS).

The initial birth survey captured information on 17,198 babies born in a single week across England, Scotland and Wales. The cohort has since been followed up eight times, at ages 5, 10, 16, 26, 30, 34, 38 and most recently at age 42, when 9,841 cohort members took part. The age 46 survey is currently underway, and will be completed in May 2018.

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 early childhood, as well as literacy and numeracy from adolescence to middle age.

Medical examinations and nurse measurements have provided information about different health conditions experienced by the study members, from bone development in childhood to heart problems in middle age. The study has also collected blood samples to see how people’s health is linked to their genes. In certain sweeps, cohort members have also kept nutrition and activity diaries.

By collecting information on various aspects of life, BCS70 has become a vital source of evidence on key policy areas such as social mobility, education, training and employment, and economic insecurity.

Research based on BCS70 has shown the importance of reading for pleasure for children’s cognitive development, especially in vocabulary and spelling, but also in maths.

Findings from the cohort members’ school years continue to inform the education debates of today. The study has revealed that grammar schools have been no more successful than comprehensives at helping to ensure pupils gained a university degree.

Research using BCS70 has also helped to show that those members of Generation X who grew up in the poorest homes were less likely to make it to the top income bracket in adulthood, compared to the Baby Boomers before them.

Sample design

The BCS70 longitudinal target sample consists of all those born (including stillbirths) in Great Britain in a single week in 1970, 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 5 there were 68 new immigrants added, 286 at 10 and 46 at 16.

Linked data

The Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) was given consent for linkage to health and economic records by cohort members in 2008. However, it is currently in negotiation with NHS Digital to obtain access to health records for England, and similarly with their Scottish and Welsh counterparts. It is also in negotiation with HMRC to obtain access to tax and employment income records, and with the DWP for benefit receipts.

Management and funding

BCS70 is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and managed by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies. The Age 46 Sweep has additional funding from the Medical Research Council.

Accessing the data

The majority of BCS70 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.

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. The CLS data dictionary offers further metadata including variables and frequencies.

Cohort profile

Jane Elliott, Peter Shepherd; Cohort Profile: 1970 British Birth Cohort (BCS70). Int J Epidemiol 2006; 35 (4): 836-843. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyl174

Resources