Longitudinal studies are uniquely suited to help us understand social change. Unlike a one-off research project which can give information about people’s lives at one point, like a snapshot photo, longitudinal studies follow individuals through time collecting data at different points, more like a photo album. They tell a story of people’s lives at a moment in time, but also over time, showing how individuals or families have changed within a wider social context.
The UK is world-leading in the funding and use of longitudinal studies. The value of these long-running surveys was recognised early by the ESRC. We funded the 1970 British Cohort Study - following the lives of more than 17,000 people born in England, Scotland and Wales in a single week of 1970. Later investments include the British Household Panel Survey, the Millennium Cohort Study and the Understanding Society study which follows 40,000 households.
The development of longitudinal studies over the last decade has underpinned advances in social science methodology. The studies provide an understanding of social change, of the trajectories of individual life histories and of the dynamic processes that underlie social and economic life.