In the aftermath of World War II, doctors and scientists became increasingly concerned at the high rate of infant death and ill health in Britain. Their determination to find the cause led to the first ever British birth cohort study, which began in March 1946.
But 12 years later, there were still an alarming number of stillbirths and children dying in the first few weeks of life. Doctors and scientists set out to survey a second generation of new British mothers – yours. And so the National Child Development Study (NCDS) began as the Perinatal Mortality Survey, sponsored by the National Birthday Trust Fund. During your first few weeks of life, an army of midwives from across England, Scotland and Wales succeeded in interviewing 98 per cent of all families who had a child in a single week of March 1958.
A paediatrician named Neville Butler was the first ever director of the study. Neville also went on to lead the third British birth cohort study in 1970, and even played a part in establishing the study of children born in 2000-01. He passed away in 2007.
NCDS was not originally intended to be an ongoing study. However, in the early 1960s, the Plowden Committee was established to advise the Government on education. It was this Committee that gave Neville the funds and support to follow up the 1958 children at age 7. Since then, there have been 10 further attempts to trace all study members at ages 11, 16, 23, 33, 42, 44, 46, 50, 55, plus the early 60s survey and additional Covid-19 survey.
The first four surveys were carried out by the National Children’s Bureau. In 1991, the Social Statistics Research Unit at City University carried out the fifth sweep, and in 1998 the management of the NCDS was transferred to the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) at the Institute of Education, today part of University College London. CLS has overseen the study ever since.
Over the course of your lives, NCDS has made many important discoveries and helped change policies in education, health and social mobility.
To find out more about what the study has learned and how it has made a difference, visit the What have we learned pages.