Longitudinal Studies are studies in which data is collected at specific intervals over a long period of time in order to measure changes over time. This post provides one example of a longitudinal study and explores some the strengths and limitations of this research method.
With a longitudinal study you might start with an original sample of respondents in one particular year (say the year 2000) and then go back to them every year, every five years, or every ten years, aiming to collect data from the same people. One of the biggest problems with Longitudinal Studies is the attrition rate, or the subject dropout rate over time.
The Millennium Cohort Study
One recent example of a Longitudinal study is the Millennium Cohort Study, which stretched from 2000 to 2011, with an initial sample of 19 000 children.
The study tracked children until the age of 11 and has provide an insight into how differences in early socialisation affect child development in terms of health and educational outcomes.
The study also allowed researchers to make comparisons in rates of development between children of different sexes and from different economic backgrounds.
Led by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the Institute of Education, it was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and government departments. The results below come from between 2006 and 2007, when the children were aged five.
The survey found that children whose parents read to them every day at the age of three were more likely to flourish in their first year in primary school, getting more than two months ahead not just in language and literacy but also in maths
Children who were read to on a daily basis were 2.4 months ahead of those whose parents never read to them in maths, and 2.8 months ahead in communication, language and literacy.
Girls were consistently outperforming boys at the age of five, when they were nine months ahead in creative development – activities like drama, singing and dancing, and 4.2 months ahead in literacy.
Children from lower-income families with parents who were less highly educated were less advanced in their development at age five. Living in social housing put them 3.2 months behind in maths and 3.5 months behind in literacy.
The strengths of longitudinal studies
They allow researchers to trace developments over time, rather than just taking a one-off ‘snapshot’ of one moment.
By making comparisons over time, they can identify causes. The Millennium Cohort study, for example suggests a clear correlation between poverty and its early impact on low educational achievement
The limitations of longitudinal studies
Sample attrition – people dropping out of the study, and the people who remain in the study may not end up being representative of the starting sample.
People may start to act differently because they know they are part of the study
Because they take a long time, they are costly and time consuming.
Continuity over many years may be a problem – if a lead researcher retires, for example, her replacement might not have the same rapport with respondents.
Point 1 – Child welfare policies protect children in the family – Laws prevent them from working, children MUST go to school, children have rights, social services can intervene if necessary. Evaluation – It is possible to interpret these laws as preventing the family from being more child centred – e.g. compulsory schooling.
Point 2 – Adults have fewer children – This enables them to spend more time with each child. The amount time parents spend with children has increased in recent decades. Evaluation – This is not true for all families – Many parents, especially fathers work long hours and cannot see their children.
Point 3 – Parents spend more time with their children. Analysis– Sociologists such as Furedi suggest this is a negative side of the ‘child centred’ family – Helicopter parents, cotton wool kids who are dependent and anxious – resulting in Kidults.
Point 4– Parents spend more money on their children. Evaluate using inequalities/ Marxism.
Five Possible Points against the view in the question
Point 1 – Sue Palmer argues that the family isn’t child centred because of toxic childhood. This is where rapid social and technological changes have led to children being harmed – e.g. fast food/ computer games/ long hours worked by parents
Point 3 – Conflict theorists point out there is a ‘dark side’ of family life for some children.
Point 4 – Higher rates of divorce suggest the family is not child centred.
Point 5 – Changing roles for women suggests women are less focussed on their children. Evaluation – The New Right would suggest this is a negative development, but Feminists argue that this means positive role models for girls growing up with working mothers
While parents and society like to think of the family as being more child centred, and where this is the case, it is not at all clear that this is a good thing. Moreover, there is considerable evidence that this is not the case – Changing women’s roles, new technologies, government polices all seem to work against child centredness. The view in the question is far from the last word on this topic.
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