The origins and innovatory nature of the 1946 British national birth cohort study

Michael Wadsworth


             The first of Britain’s six large-scale birth cohort studies began in 1946, within eleven months of the end of the Second World War. Evidence is given in support of the argument that the initial aims of the first study were determined mostly by pre-war policy and scientific concerns with falling fertility and the social gradient in infant mortality. It is also shown that the methods and dynamic of the study were provided by the enthusiasm and expertise of a young demographer, and by a young physician’s expertise and war-time experience of data collection and analysis. Their pioneering methods of data collection, their concern with both science and policy, and with biological as well as social questions, and the physician’s determination and persistence in swimming against the tide of contemporary scientific opinion, provided a strong basis for the study, which still continues.


Longitudinal study; history; epidemiology; social science

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