Longitudinal studies provide a means for studying processes of individual life-course development and dynamics, and the effects of earlier characteristics and exposures on later outcomes. The UK's series of longitudinal population studies deliver insight on changing social and technological circumstances since the end of the Second World War. They are a flagship component of the social science data resources ESRC funds, and a core commitment in our 2015 Strategic Plan.

For over 40 years the ESRC has been a major funder and proponent of longitudinal studies including birth cohorts. We see these as national social science data infrastructure. As we make significant annual and long-term investment in longitudinal studies, we need a clear, up-to-date vision for the future of our commitment. Any future investment has to be relevant to research and policy communities. The studies and related activities we fund must continue to evolve and innovate to keep the UK at the global forefront of longitudinal study methods and research, connect appropriately to the rapidly developing data-for-research landscape, and deliver value for money.

Our 2006 Strategic Review of Panel and Cohort Studies (PDF, 711Kb) led to the development of CLOSER and the 2007 Scientific Case for a New Birth Cohort Study (PDF, 388Kb) – a nationally representative birth cohort study that was planned to begin in 2012. Life Study, the 2012 birth cohort study, was funded between 2011 and 2016. At its close Life Study had not generated any useable data, but it did provide valuable scientific lessons. 

CLOSER (the Cohorts and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resource) also emerged from our 2006 review. CLOSER was funded in October 2012 and brings together eight leading studies, the British Library and the UK Data Service. CLOSER works to stimulate interdisciplinary research, develop shared resources, provide training, and share expertise.

Our Longitudinal Studies Review 2017 will build on the 2006 review, and associated work, and the 2014 MRC Strategic Review of the Largest UK Population Cohorts (PDF) (external website). It will form a core contribution to the development of our future vision.