CLOSER releases new harmonised data on childhood circumstances

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Harmonised data from the 1946, 1958 and 1970 British birth cohorts on childhood environment and experiences are now available to the global research community via the UK Data Service.

The variables included in the datasets cover four main areas, which aim to identify childhood disadvantage:

  • Family socioeconomic position: including whether the child lived in overcrowded housing, the family’s housing tenure, and if the child was born to teenage parents.
  • Child rearing and parenting: including whether the child got along with their parents, whether the parents took an interest in the child’s education, and whether the child was breastfed.
  • Family instability: including whether the parents divorced while the child was young, how often the family moved home, and if the child had ever been separated from the mother.
  • Parental health: including whether the parents had any physical or mental health problems.

The datasets also include harmonised variables on child health, such as low birthweight and social or behavioural problems, and a single measure of adult mental wellbeing. Wellbeing was measured in all studies using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale, at age 60-64 for the 1946 cohort, at age 50 for the 1958 cohort, and at age 42 for the 1970 cohort.

The data were harmonised as part of a CLOSER project investigating the associations between childhood socioeconomic circumstances and adult wellbeing. The research, led by Dr Mai Stafford and Dr Natasha Wood, found that childhood disadvantage was strongly associated with poorer mental health in middle age for the 1970 generation. The connection was not evident among older generations.

Harmonisation is a process of recoding or modifying variables so that they are comparable across studies, or across multiple sweeps of the same study. Over time, different studies have used different methods to collect information on important aspects of participants’ lives. Harmonising these measures unlocks the potential of the data for more sophisticated life course and intergenerational research. CLOSER is playing a leading role in harmonising commonly used data in the UK’s longitudinal studies.

CLOSER has also re-released harmonised data on body size and socioeconomic status (measured by occupation). The inclusion of code files, and more standardised documentation across these datasets, will allow researchers to more easily use the harmonised datasets in combination, and in conjunction with other data collected by the individual studies.

Dr Dara O’Neill, who leads CLOSER’s harmonisation initiatives, said: “Understanding how the conditions of childhood influence the rest of our lives is fundamental to life course research. Harmonising these data across longitudinal studies will allow us to build a better picture of how life chances are changing from one generation to the next.”

Download the data

The data and documentation are available to researchers around the world via the UK Data Service [SN 2000111].

The contents of CLOSER’s harmonised datasets will be searchable through CLOSER Discovery by the end of the year.