The power and perils of narrative: making the best use of the British Birth Cohort studies – Inaugural Professorial Lecture by Professor Jane Elliott ShareThis


Britain is unique in the world in having a portfolio of national birth cohort studies that follow individuals from birth through childhood and into adult life. These studies, the first of which was established in 1946, have already been instrumental in providing evidence relevant to a wide range of policy issues particularly in the areas of health, child development, education and employment.

In her inaugural lecture Professor Jane Elliott will use a vivid narrative case study to illustrate the detailed information that the British Birth Cohort studies collect about individuals and their circumstances. She will draw on an eclectic range of literature both to give an insight into the types of research that can be conducted using Britain’s unparalleled portfolio of birth cohort studies, and also to explore the narrative properties of the studies. She argues for the importance of examining individual life stories in order to complement the detailed quantitative information collected by the studies, and demonstrates how individual narratives can provide an appealing and compelling way to communicate the findings from quantitative analyses. However Professor Elliott will also highlight some of the dangers of focussing only on the individual, and make a broader case for using narrative methods to understand the social world and the intersubjective structures within which individuals try to make sense of their own lives and experiences.


  • Professor Jane Elliott photo

    Professor Jane Elliott,

    Director of CLOSER and the Centre for Longitudinal Studies

    Jane is Professor of Sociology at the Institute of Education, University of London, and Director of both the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) and CLOSER (Cohort and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources). CLS manages four cohorts: The 1958 British birth cohort study (also known as the National Child Development Study), the 1970 British Cohort Study, the Millennium Cohort Study and Next Steps (formerly the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England). Jane’s main research interests include gender and employment, women's careers, longitudinal research methodology, combining qualitative and quantitative research and narrative.