The Up Series – Britain’s Best Loved Longitudinal Study

From 7 Up to 63 Up

The Up Series has followed the lives of fourteen children since 1964, and it is still going today, with 11 respondents still actively involved in the project.

The original 7 Up was broadcast in 1964 and featured the children talking about their hopes and aspirations for the future. Since then, the cameras have returned every seven years to document the changes in the lives of the respondents, up until the most recent, ‘63 Up’, which aired in 2019 on Brit Box.

The Director of the series is Michael Apsted, and one of things he was interested in testing was whether children’s characters were ‘set’ by the age of seven – based on a famous quote/ theory of Aristotle –

‘Give me the child at seven, and I will show the man’ – implying that by seven, a child’s character is pretty much set by that age.

Apsted was also interested in the extent to which social class background determined the future life-chances of the children, and the documentary selected children from extreme ends of the social class spectrum – Tony, for example is a classic working class London East Ender, who can’t sit still in school in the first episode and is talking about how important fighting is, while Andrew is attending a private boarding school, and at age seven already knows the college at Cambridge he wants to go to and that he intends to be lawyer.

The documentary series has a strong focus on personal life-histories, and every seven years, the respondents have  been asked why they made certain decisions and how they coped with life’s up and downs, especially during the previous seven years.

The latest series sees the respondents getting very reflective of their ‘adult lives’ now that they are in or approaching retirement.

63 Up is split into three parts, three hours long in total, with in depth-semi-structured interviews with all the remaining participants. Besides their life-histories, you get to see the close relationships that have built up between the director and the respondents, which is something only possible with a relatively small-scale longitudinal study such as this.

Michael Apsted: Director of 63 UP

If you want to watch the whole thing, you’ll need to subscribe to BritBox. There are some playlists on YouTube, but IMO it’s worth paying the subscription for a month just for this (or if it’s yer first time, not paying because you can cancel after the first free trial month!)

Seven Up: Relevance to A-level Sociology

  • The most obvious link is to research methods, with this as a pretty interesting example of a longitudinal study, but it also shows other methods – namely semi-structured interviews and also ‘Life Histories’.
  •  It also links to families and households – there’s a lot of focus on family life, it’s kind of like an application of the Personal Life Perspective – you get to see how the meaning of family varies for the respondents
  • It’s a powerful reminder of how social class has influenced life-chances.

The strengths of this small-scale Longitudinal Study

  • The sample selection allows us to compare the life-progression of working-class kids and upper middle-class kids, from childhood to retirement.
  • The in-depth nature of the study allows us to relate personally to the stories of individuals – many of the respondents talk about how they think ordinary people will be able to relate to their life stories. Good empathetic understanding.
  • Over the years a close relationship has built up between the director and the respondents, and the later now seem to own the process more – with more of the input coming from them.
  • We get to see how political and economic changes have impacted individuals from their micro-perspective – this is a great example of an Interpretivist perspective, and it shows the sociological imagination at work.
  • Fortunately, the attrition rate hasn’t been too bad with this study.
  • We really get to see how social class effects life-chances with the working class respondents seeming to worry more about their children’s futures.

The Limitations

  • The sample size is too small to make generalisations to the population. It isn’t worth doing statistical comparisons because of the low numbers.
  • Women are underrepresented, especially now one has died and another has pulled out. And there is only one non-white participant.
  • There seems to be a gender bias in the original interviews – with many of the questions focusing on marriage for the women, but less so for the men, so difficult to make comparisons.
  • The study has clearly made the respondents minor celebrities, and being part of it may have made them lead their lives different.
  • Ethically it’s been quite demanding on the respondents, most of them talk about not looking forward to doing the interviews.
  • Will it carry on until 70-Up?!?

How to use this as a teacher

There’s a danger this might be of more interest to you as a teacher, and not so much to your students, especially if you’re of a certain age!

However, you can give students a feeling for the documentary series by simply showing them the original summary YouTube clip (I recommend) which is quite entertaining, and then following up by a couple of clips from the latest 63 Up, add in timings.  

If you just focus on Tony and Andrew, who are the first two respondents, you get to see the real difference in social class background, and you can give students a feel for the differences in ‘life-course’ these two individuals have had.

Tony: working class, and grew up in the East End of London

In the original 7 Up, Tony is one of the more memorable characters, we see him running around a lot, falling over, climbing up railings, struggling to sit still in class and talking about how important it is to ‘have a fight’.  

His aspiration was to be a jockey, and he became one when he left school at 15, but after riding in three races and not placing, he turned to taxi driving as a career, and by 21 he was doing the knowledge to become a London cab driver.

He’s had what seems to be a reasonably successful, but fairly typical working class life – he married in his 20s, and by 28 had two kids.

He moved to Essex in 40s, bought a second home in Spain, and spent a lot of holiday time out there with his family.  

He had plans to move to Spain permanently to set up a bar in his 50s, but that all collapsed along with the wider development complex he was buying into in the area, so they consolidated, sold their Spanish assets, and are now living in a nice static Caravan in Essex (I think it’s Essex), surrounded by other traditional working class people.

He’s still married to his first wife, despite getting caught with one affair.

He voted for Brexit, but feels let down by the Tories, who he’ll never vote for again.

In 63 Up he’s still a cabby, and reported losing   a third of his income because of Uber.

On the class system – he says it’s very influential – those that are born with a silver spoon get extra chances, he also says (in previous episodes) that he’s better than most other people on the show, but never had a leg up!

As to  ‘show me the child and I’ll show you the man’ he says they got it right with him, and his section closes with an image of him running in the woods, in the same style as when he was running around in 7 Up, albeit with him being a bit fatter!

Andrew

Andrew was at boarding school in the original 7 Up, and in that very first episode states that he’s going to go Cambridge and study law.

He did precisely that and became a solicitor, and ended up moving to America by his 30s to work for a big American Transnational.

By 28 he married Jane, who I think was from a bit of a lower social class background, and by 35 had two children.

There are signs of his obvious wealth – previous episodes show the family on ski holidays and one of his sons studies computer science at Birmingham University.

They have a house in London and a second home in the country (a derelict barn bought at auction)

Their interview in 63 Up is set mostly in their amazing house, and Andrew is still working as a lawyer, retiring at 63.

He says he wishes he’d spent more time with his family rather than work, and he deliberately didn’t send their children to Boarding School because of this experience.  

He thinks elements of a child’s character are shaped at 7, but there are so many options not entirely, especially for Andrew, he thinks his wife as mellowed him a lot, which is maybe a fair comment!

He thinks the class system is more based on fame rather than class.

Sue

Unfortunately many of the early interviews with women focus on questions about marriage, which is a shame because it limits the content compared to the boys/ men!

At aged 7 we see Sue talking about what boys like them and her life history focuses almost entirely on here relationships.

She was married at 24, divorced kids by 35, and in a relationship with someone else by 42 – they’ve been engaged 20 years now she’s 63 ‘longest engagement ever’??

She’s an administrator for the Postgraduate programme at UCL – still there now.

She says that here dog is like part of their family, so there’s a link to the Personal Life Perspective.

On class she says she has always been working class and that you have to be born upper class. She thinks the bottom end has got worse – homelessness is now a thing, it wasn’t when she was younger.

She also points out that she got onto the property ladder because she got a council house, which changed here life.

She thinks you can see the adult now in her 7 year old self.

As to the importance of the documentary she says

‘ People pick up on what effects them – the things we’re going through are what everyone is going through’

She’s quite a young 63 year old!

Nick

Nick was brought up on a farm in Yorkshire, so difficult to place his class background.

He’s a very intelligent individual, clearly thoughtful as even a 7 year old, and went to Oxford to study physics, researching nuclear fusion.

His research went nowhere, and he eventually ended up teaching it physics, at degree level, which he seems to be still enjoying.  

He was married then divorced by his 40s and remarried by his 50s and currently (I think) lives in America.

He suggests the programme is difficult and that it’s made him think deeply about what the purpose of his life his.

Observes that he was at Oxford at the same time as Theresa May and that it’s unfortunate that such people have the front and the route to power, as they’re not the most capable to be running the country.

He still sees himself in that 7 year old child!

He had severe throat cancer at the time of the interview.

Bruce

Bruce was in boarding school at seven, and his parents divorced while he was still boarding

At 21 he was studying maths at Oxford and then spent period working in a state school as a teacher

At 35 he took a sabbatical teaching in Bangladesh – he was on a bit of a mission to ‘give something back’ pointing out that education is the key to unlocking opportunities.  

However, by 49 he was teaching maths at St Alban’s independent school. His friends give him a hard time apparently, about where his ideals have gone to.

He married later, in his 40s and he has two sons.

He doesn’t seem to have inherited wealth (maybe that was the divorce?) – he was living in a council house when he was in his 20s and he’s still having to work now, although only to fund his children through university.

His Kids don’t know what they want to do for carers!

He says he was beaten in public school – for no reason. This Killed expression of feelings. Restricted his emotional state.

Interestingly he said that when he was single he had ideals about combatting poverty, but having a family made him focus on more making money for his family, hence the move to the independent school at that time I guess.

Jackie

Married Mick by the age of 21 and moved to the outskirts of London, decided they didn’t want children. She was divorced by 35.

A second brief relationship led to one kid, then another one led to another two, and then another relationship.

At some point she moved to Scotland and she’s still living there, living on disability benefits for years, although I think she worked in the past.

She’s been on her own for years, and has become very close to her sister recently.

She says she’s loved being in the programme and than she can still see the core of herself in that seven year old child.

One of her ex-partners died in a road traffic accident, as a pedestrian. Although separate, he was still part of their children’s lives. 

She’s had a hard life!

She’s had a go at Michael, the director and interviewer, for treating the girls/  women on the series differently – asking them about children, not about society.

Not even by 21. They were still asking her mundane domestic questions.

Pete

Peter went to a comprehensive in Liverpool and got a history degree at London University. Peter decided to pull out at 28 up.

The Tabloids decided to portray him as the angry young red in Thatcher’s Britain.

Now he’s back: to promote the music and the band he’s in.

He’s had a hard time on social media, as an outspoken lefty

Lynne – working class east end of London

At 21 Lynne was working in a mobile Library in East London – delivering children’s books.

She’s spent her life working in children’s services and fighting for them but has been a victim of funding cuts – the mobile library was cut eventually.

She was working in Bethnal Green Library by age 42, and still at 49, but by the 56 up – review, she’d lost her job there due to cuts.  

She married at 19 – stayed married, had 2 daughters, both did well at school neither went to university.

She died unexpectedly a few years ago, due to a freak accident combined with an underlying medical condition – her section ends with interviews with her husband of 35 years and daughters.

It’s all quite sad really!

Paul and Symon

Both went to the same children’s home in London, and they visit each other to this day!

Paul’s family moved to Australia when he was a teenager.  He went into the Building Trade then Warehouse

Married by 28. He’d had two children by then. One went to University the other a car mechanic. Lots of grandchildren – and their kids seem to be doing well! 

Symon

Was working at Walls Freezer Factory at 21 – at 28 didn’t want to the hassle of being a manager.

By 28 he was married and had 5 kids. Divorced by 35. By 42, he got remarried.

By 49, trained to be Foster Parents and he’s looked after over 100 kids.

Says it took him years to reconcile his kids to his first divorce – can’t rush it!

He has 10 grandchildren, his friend Paul has a few too.

What’s remarkable about these two is just how similar their life paths have been, in so many ways, their partners apparently get on really well too. I guess it demonstrates the significance of friendships in enhancing the quality of life.

My intuition also tells me that these two seem to be the ‘least troubled’ of all the original respondents – and neither of them have been particularly ambitious in their lives!

John

He went to Westminster and studied law at Christ church Cambridge

He was a barrister by 35 and still is, on the cusp of retiring.

He comes across as screamingly posh, but he’s far from a ‘typical upper class Tory’ – he’s half Bulgarian, he’s married a Bulgarian and because his parents divorced when he was very young he ended up being quite poor and went to Oxford on a scholarship.

He may have been chosen to represent a certain class, but he was a bad selection if he was supposed to be ‘typical’.  

Voted Remain – too simple to be a yes or no issue.

There were inequalities when he was 7, but he doesn’t see them anymore.

Neil

Neil’s life course is probably the most interesting – Michael says that ‘everyone loved him at 7 and 14’ but from there is life seemed to go into free fall.

At 21 he was working on a building site and living in a squat.

At 28 he was homeless and touring the west coast of Scotland and at 35 living on a council estate on the Shetland Islands

However, by 42 he had moved to London and was working as a Lid Dem counsellor, and by 49 he was doing the same but in Cumbria.

He got married in his 50s – but they do not see each other very much anymore. He suggests it is because of his mental health issues – he needs to be left alone when he has a low mood episode.

Looking back, you can see this – at 35 he’s talking about ‘knowing he’s going mad’.  This is quite interesting – back then, we weren’t used to talking about ‘mental health’, now it’s well-in!

Because he’s used to living off a low income, his counsellor wages are enough for him to live off, and he’s also bought a house in France – His wife found it. He got the money from his mother’s death.

He says that Brexit was a vote against deteriorating society and politics

Can you see the adult in the 7-year-old?

‘You and the audience are in a better position to judge’

Final thoughts – how useful is the Up Series?

I love it, but that’s probably because I’m in my late 40s and can relate to the people in it – for today’s students, this kind of in-depth look at social changes might not be that interesting.

Having said that, a lot of A-level content is about social changes over the last 40 years, and these people have lived through those changes.

Also, some of the older clips are quite a lot of fun!

The utility of the series maybe comes more in teaching kids about ‘life lessons’ – one of my my take aways is how all of these people seem to have lead pretty ordinary lives for the most part – all of them have had children except for Neil, and they’ve just ‘got on with it’ – weathered lives storms, and come out the other end.

What this series shows us more than anything else is maybe that life is nothing special, and surviving it is a success in itself.

Whether today’s teenagers will be able to relate to it, I don’t know, I get the feeling life today is maybe too hyperreal for the lives of these boomers to have any real meaning?

It’s history!

Find out More

This Article from The Conversation offers an upbeat, but critical overview of the series!

Depression leads to more social media usage, not the other way around!

Recent longitudinal research from Brock University in Canada suggests that depression leads to people spending more time on social media, rather than those who spend more time of social media being more likely to develop depression.

Facebook depression.png

This study contradicts many of the ‘moral panic’ type headlines which suggests a link between heavy social media use and depression. Such headlines tend to be based on studies which look at correlations between indicators of depression and indicators of social media use at the same point in time, which cannot tell us which comes first: the depression or the heavy social media use.

This Canadian study followed a sample of teenagers from 2015 (and university students for 6 years) and surveyed them at intervals using a set of questions designed to measure depression levels and another set designed to measure social media usage and other aspects of screen time.

What they found was that teenage girls who showed signs of depression early on in the study were more likely to have higher rates of social media usage later on, leading to the theory that teenage girls who are depressed may well turn to social media to make themselves feel better.

The study found no relationship between boys or adults of both sexes and depression and social media.

This is an interesting research study which really goes to show the advantages of the longitudinal method (researching the same sample at intervals over time) in possibly busting a few myths about the harmful effects of social media!

 

Longitudinal Studies

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.

Selected Findings

  • 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.

Related Posts

Explaining Social Class Differences in Educational Through Longitudinal Studies

Explaining Social Class Differences in Education Using Longitudinal Studies

Why do working class children do worse than middle class children in education? This post looks at some quantitative, longitudinal data to explore why.

A recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation argues that early intervention is not enough to tackle the persistent differences in class inequalities in educational achievement – The report is a follow up to earlier research published March last year which is summarised below

This four page summary (and the longer document which you can get if you follow the links) is an excellent example of a quantitative approach to social research – in the tradition of Positivism (although strictly speaking, not purely Positivist). NB IF THE IMAGES AREN’T CLEAR JUST CLICK ON THEM! I’ve spent way too long faffing about with them already.

This study uses statistical data from four longitudinal studies  to uncover the main ‘causal factors’ behind why children from low income backgrounds do so badly in education.

Before we get onto the ’causes’ please note that ‘educational achievement gap’ between the social classes widens as children get older. The study notes that –

The research showed that educational deficits emerge early in children’s lives, even before entry into school, and widen throughout childhood. Even by the age of three there is a considerable gap in cognitive test scores between children in the poorest fifth of the population compared with those from better-off backgrounds. This gap widens as children enter and move through the schooling system, especially during primary school years.

The report demonstrates this graphically as follows –

 

Differences in 'cognitive ability' by income and age
Differences in ‘cognitive ability’ by income and age

 

And you can see from the table below how the differences are greater by ages 7 and 11…

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According to the study The main ’causes’ of class differences in educational achievement are –

  • Children from poorer backgrounds are much less likely to experience a rich home learning environment than children from better-off backgrounds. At age three, for example, reading to the child is less likely to happen in poorer households.

Reasons for the widening gap between children from richer and poorer backgrounds are:

  • lower parental aspirations for higher education – (81% of the richest mothers hope their child at age 9 will go to university, compared to only 39% of the poorest mothers)
  • how far parents and children believe their own actions can affecttheir lives;
  • children’s behavioural problems.

• It becomes harder to reverse patterns of under-achievement by the teenage years, but disadvantage and poor school results continue to be linked, including through:

  • – teenagers’ and parents’ expectations for higher education
  • material resources such as access to a computer and the internet at home;
  •  engagement in anti-social behaviour;
  • and young people’s belief in their own ability at school.

What’s interesting is the way the stats visually display the multiple disadvantages people from low incomes face – for example –

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Probably my favourite graphic of all is this – which is hopefully at least partially self explanatory
 
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If it’s not clear from the graphic – this is saying that family background is correlated with  two thirds of the difference in cognitive ability between the richest and poorest children aged three.

Overall, the main message of this study – that home background and parental aspiration matter a lot when it comes to explaining class differences in educational achievement.

The study also mentions that there are certain policy implications that need to be followed through if the government wishes to address these issues, but of course just because some research suggest certain courses of action, it doesn’t necessarily mean the government will adopt those courses of action, because of funding constraints, or ideological biases.

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Sociology and Social Policy