Growing up in Scotland: a study following the lives of Scotland's children

The first research report on Sweep 1 findings of the Growing Up in Scotland study.

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.1 About Growing Up in Scotland

The Growing Up in Scotland study ( GUS) is an important and ambitious new longitudinal research project aimed at tracking the lives of a cohort of Scottish children from the early years, through childhood and beyond. Funded by the Scottish Executive Education Department, its principal aim is to provide information to support policy-making, but it is also intended to be a broader resource that can be drawn on by academics, voluntary sector organisations and other interested parties. This report provides an overview of the results from the first sweep of the survey (carried out between April 2004 and March 2005). As such, its aims are relatively modest; to provide descriptive analysis relating to the characteristics, circumstances and attitudes of the families who took part in the research and to highlight the potential for more detailed analyses as additional data accrues across subsequent sweeps of the research.

1.2 Why was the study commissioned?

In 2003, the Scottish Executive commissioned a review of its need for longitudinal data. This identified two significant gaps, relating to early years and to youth transitions. Against this backdrop, the decision was taken to launch a new birth cohort study with a particular focus on children and families in the early years. Following a competitive tendering exercise, a contract to undertake the study was awarded to the Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen) in collaboration with the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships ( CRFR) at Edinburgh University.

The initial part of the contract involved the undertaking of a scoping exercise intended to clarify the scope and objectives of the study and to identify the most appropriate methods. The scoping phase of the study had two broad objectives: first, to ensure that the design and content of the main survey was matched as closely as possible to the needs of its core policy customers; and secondly, to embed the main study in the broader academic and policy community - both in allowing it to draw on that community for up-to-date ideas and expertise and to foster a sense of input and involvement that would help to maximise the utilisation and value of the survey in the longer term.

In order to achieve these objectives, a range of approaches were adopted, including:

  • Investigative interviews with policy makers and research commissioners from both the Scottish Executive and elsewhere
  • A series of consultative seminars with representatives of the academic community
  • Discussions with colleagues and researchers in other institutions
  • A desk-based review of lessons from previous studies and existing instruments

Information gathered through the scoping study was then used to inform the design and content of the main survey.

Although there are other birth cohort studies that include Scotland (most notably the Millennium Cohort Study), GUS is distinctive in that:

  • It has a distinctively Scottish focus with a sample large enough to support subgroup analysis within Scotland
  • It is driven by the needs of policy-making, with a particular focus on access to, and use of, services
  • It has an intensive focus on the early years, with interviews being carried out with a parent or carer of the child each year until the age of six

1.3 How is the study carried out?

GUS is based on a cohort or longitudinal design - in other words, it involves the recruitment of a 'panel' of children (and their families) who will be revisited on a number of occasions over an extended period of time. Such an approach is an especially effective way of identifying factors associated with particular medium and long-term outcomes.

Members of the panel were identified in the first instance from Child Benefit records, which are administered by the Department for Work and Pensions ( DWP) on behalf of the Inland Revenue, on the basis of dates of birth. 1 A letter was then sent to the Child Benefit recipient (normally the child's mother) asking whether he/she would be willing to take part in the research. Unless parents or carers registered an objection to being included in the study, their details were passed to members of ScotCen's fieldforce who then contacted the parent or carer to further establish a willingness to participate and arrange an interview.

GUS is currently based on two cohorts, both recruited at the same time. The first involves some 5,217 children born between June 2004 and May 2005 and who were aged approximately 10 months at the time of the first interview. It is envisaged that this group will form the basis of long-term follow-up. The second cohort was based on a sample of 2,859 children who were born June 2002 and May 2003 and aged approximately 34 months at the time of the first interview. This group will be followed up annually to the age of 5 and may be followed up at subsequent points.

The planned configuration of cohorts and sweeps is summarised below: BC1 refers to the younger of the two cohorts ('baby cohort') and TC1 to the slightly older cohort ('toddler cohort'). At present, the intention is to launch a new birth cohort (BC2) in 2009.

Table 1.1 Proposed sample design, 2005-2011

Age at interview




























Overall, the aim of this design is to allow the study to provide three types of data:

1. Cross-sectional time specific data - e.g. what proportion of 2-3 year-olds are living in single parent families in 2005?
2. Cross-sectional time series data - e.g. is there any change in the proportion of 2-3 year-olds living in single parent families between 2005 and 2007?
3. Longitudinal cohort data - e.g. what proportion of children who were living in single parent households aged 2-3 are living in different family circumstances at age 4-5?

For the first year of the study, interviewers sought to contact the 'main carer' of the child named in the Child Benefit records. In virtually all cases (99%), this proved to be the child's natural mother. Consequently, the terms 'parent', 'respondent' and 'mother' are virtually synonymous in the analysis that follows. It should be noted, however, that the perspectives of other family members (resident and non-resident) will be canvassed in future sweeps of the study (see below).

All interviews were carried out in participants' own homes by specially-trained social survey interviewers using Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing ( CAPI). This involves the interviewers reading questions from, and entering responses directly into, a laptop computer and offers a number of advantages over traditional pen-and-paper methods, including improved data quality and speed of turnaround.

Response to take part in the survey was overwhelmingly positive from both interviewers and families. Of those eligible to take part in the survey, interviews were achieved with 81% of families with a child aged 0-1 years and 80% of those aged 2-3 years.

1.4 Next steps

Fieldwork for the second sweep of the survey was launched in April 2006 and early indications are that a high proportion of those interviewed for the first sweep have also taken part in the second. Data from the second sweep will become available to the research team in the summer of 2007, at which point the first longitudinal analyses (albeit only covering a 12-month interval) will be possible.

Data from each sweep of the survey will be lodged with the Economic and Social Data Service ( ESDS) Data Archive following initial publication of results by the Scottish Executive, ScotCen and CRFR. There will be an ongoing programme of dissemination and utilisation associated with the study, details of which are available from the project website at

Further details about the survey methods are included in the technical notes in Appendix A and can be found on the project website. A copy of the full Sweep 1 questionnaire is also available from the site. A full technical report will be available at a later date.

1.5 A note on the interpretation and presentation of results

Only statistically significant differences (between subgroups) are commented on in the text. This is true at the 95% confidence limit; in other words, we can be 95% certain that the difference observed is not due to chance.

Within the main body of the report, most results have been rounded to whole numbers. In the tables and graphs, results have been rounded to one decimal place.

Further details on the analysis and interpretation of the results can be found in the technical notes in Appendix A.

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