The MCS is a large-scale, multi-purpose longitudinal dataset providing information about babies born at the beginning of the 21st century, their progress through life, and the families who are bringing them up, for the four countries of the United Kingdom. The original objectives of the first MCS survey, as laid down in the proposal to the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in March 2000, were:
Additional objectives subsequently included for MCS were:
- to chart the initial conditions of social, economic and health advantages and disadvantages facing children born at the start of the 21st century, capturing information that the research community of the future will require
- to provide a basis for comparing patterns of development with the preceding cohorts (the National Child Development Study, held at the UK Data Archive under GN 33004, and the 1970 Birth Cohort Study, held under GN 33229)
- to collect information on previously neglected topics, such as fathers' involvement in children's care and development
- to focus on parents as the most immediate elements of the children's 'background', charting their experience as mothers and fathers of newborn babies in the year 2000, recording how they (and any other children in the family) adapted to the newcomer, and what their aspirations for her/his future may be
- to emphasise intergenerational links including those back to the parents' own childhood
- to investigate the wider social ecology of the family, including social networks, civic engagement and community facilities and services, splicing in geo-coded data when available
The first sweep (MCS1) interviewed both mothers and (where resident) fathers (or father-figures) of infants included in the sample when the babies were nine months old, and the second sweep (MCS2) was carried out with the same respondents when the children were three years of age. The third sweep (MCS3) was conducted in 2006, when the children were aged five years, and the fourth sweep (MCS4) in 2008, when they were seven years old. MCS1 recorded the circumstances of pregnancy and birth, as well as those of the all-important early months of life, and the social and economic background of the family into which the children have been born. MCS2 repeated information about family circumstances and also collected information on child development. MCS3 also repeated information about family circumstances and also collected information on child development and early schooling. MCS4 also repeated information about family circumstances and also collected information on child development and further schooling.
- to provide control cases for the national evaluation of Sure Start (a government programme intended to alleviate child poverty and social exclusion)
- to provide samples of adequate size to analyse and compare the smaller countries of the United Kingdom, and include disadvantaged areas of England
Further objectives for MCS2 were as follows:
MCS3 and MCS4:
- to chart continuity and change since the age of nine months in the child's family and parenting environment
- to chart the child's transitions and adaptations to settings and relationships outside the immediate home and family
- to assess key aspects of the child's physical, cognitive, social and emotional development
- to maximise longitudinal potential for predicting and explaining future development
- to 'recapture' information not collected at the first sweep
The objectives of MCS3 and MCS4 were:
While many of the areas covered in MCS3 built on the information already collected in MCS1 and MCS2, a number of new items were also included, such as the measurement of waist circumference. Information was gathered from the cohort members' parents or guardians for the main Parent Interview. In addition there were four cognitive assessments and three physical measurements of the cohort child, and a paper self-completion questionnaire for up to two older siblings aged 10-15 years.
- to continue tracking the child's physical, cognitive and behavioural development
- to chart continuity and change in the child's family circumstances and physical environment up to age seven
- to record the child's transition to primary school and their experience of the first years at school
- to track the child's previous experience of early education and day-care, along with current out-of-school care arrangements
- to record the progress of the child's older siblings
- to re-contact families who had participated in at least one of the earlier surveys but who may not have participated in all sweeps
- to ask the children directly about their thoughts and experiences at age seven
MSC3 and MCS4 also included information obtained from the teachers of cohort children. For MCS3, the methodology for cohort children in England differed to that for their counterparts in the rest of the UK. Parents of cohort children who lived in England were asked for permission to access their child's Foundation Stage Profile (FSP). Teachers complete the FSP for every pupil at the end of the children's reception year. The FSP collects information about children's social and personal, communication, language, literacy and mathematical development. The information is passed from schools to the Local Education Authority, where it is held centrally. At the time of the survey, teachers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland did not complete anything similar to the FSP that was held centrally. Therefore, it was necessary to carry out a Teacher Survey, 2006, which collected similar information about the cohort children directly from their class teachers.
From the inception of MCS4, it was felt that a survey of children's teachers during their primary schooling would provide valuable information on a cohort child's early educational development. It would provide a point of reference and comparison for the cognitive assessments carried out directly with children in the home and complement the educational and behavioural data collected in the main interview. The Teacher Survey, 2008 took place when the children were aged around seven and had been in primary schooling for around three years. The teachers were contacted based on information provided by the parents and contingent on consent to contact being obtained from the parents. During the MCS4 Main Respondent interview, the parent was asked to give the name of the child's class teacher and to consent for the teacher to be contacted. School details were also collected as part of the main questionnaire. The Teacher Survey, 2008 took the form of a postal self-completion questionnaire sent to the named teacher at the child's school. The head teacher of the school also received an information pack containing a covering letter and survey leaflet at the same time as teachers were first sent the questionnaire. Separate questionnaires were issued to schools in England, Wales (also a version in Welsh), Scotland and Northern Ireland. Teachers who did not respond were sent up to two reminders.
End User Licence versions of MCS studies:
The End User Licence (EUL) versions of MCS1, MCS2, MCS3 and MCS4 are held under UK Data Archive SNs 4683, 5350, 5795 and 6411, respectively. The EUL version of the Teacher Survey and Foundation Stage Profile, 2006 is held under SN 6847. The EUL version of the Teacher Survey, 2008 is held under SN 6848.
Some studies based on sub-samples of MCS have also been conducted, including a study of MCS respondent mothers who had received assisted fertility treatment, conducted in 2003 (see EUL SN 5559). Also, birth registration and maternity hospital episodes for the MCS respondents are held as a separate dataset (see EUL SN 5614).
Users should note that the weighting section in the 'Guide to the Datasets' document recommends analysis in Stata, as SPSS is not currently able to weight the data using the survey design factors. The depositor is working on a solution for SPSS, but this is not yet available. A Stata version of the dataset is available for access by SDS members, alongside the SPSS and tab-delimited versions.
MCS web pages:
Further information about the MCS can be found on the Centre for Longitudinal Studies web pages.
Secure Access datasets:
Secure Access versions of the MCS have more restrictive access conditions than versions available under the standard End User Licence or Special Licence (see 'Access' section below).
Secure Access versions of the MCS include:
The linked education administrative datasets held under SNs 6862, 7414 and 7415 are not available for access alongside the MCS detailed geography files deposited under SNs 7049, 7050 and 7051, or the Hospital of Birth: Special Licence Access dataset under SN 5724.
- detailed geography files held under SN 7049 (Ward level), SN 7050 (Lower Super Output Area level), and SN 7051 (Output Area level)
linked education administrative datasets held under SN 6862 (England), 7414 (Scotland) and SN 7415 (Wales).
Researchers applying for access to the Secure Access MCS datasets should indicate on their ESRC Accredited Researcher application form the EUL dataset(s) that they also wish to access (selected from the MCS list of datasets web page).