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Exploring selfhood in the 1960s
through secondary data analysis
Jon Lawrence, University of Cambridge
Jane Elliott, Centre for Longitudinal Studies
CLS is an ESRC Resource Centre based
at the Institute of Education
Aims of the presentation
Introduce the essays written by eleven year old children in 1969 as a
resource for secondary analysis
Explore the original context in which the essays were written
What can analysis of the essays tell us about children’s
understandings of gender, class and family life in the late 1960s?
How can the essays be used in conjunction with quantitative
material from the 1958 cohort study?
What are the limitations of the children’s essays as a source for
historians and historical sociologists?
NCDS Follow-ups and sources of information 1958-2010
Original sample: all living in GB born in one week in 1958
PMS
NCDS1
NCDS2
NCDS3
NCDS4
NCDS5
NCDS6
(1958)
Birth
(1965)
7
(1969)
11
(1974)
16
(1981)
23
(1991)
33
(2000)
42
(2002-3)
44-45
(2004-5)
46
(2008-9)
50
17,733a
16,883
16,835
16,915
16,457
15,600
15,145
12,037
11,739
12,316
Mother
Medical
—
—
Parents
—
Parents
—
Parents
School
—
School
—
School
Tests
—
Tests
—
Tests
Medical
—
Medical
—
Medical
Subject
—
Subject
—
Subject
—
Subject
Census
—
Census
—
Subject
Mother
—
Subject
15,337
14,647
12,537
11,407
Notes
a: Target sample - Excludes emigrants, refusals & deaths. Includes immigrants at NCDS1-3.
b: Achieved sample - At least on survey instrument partially completed
c: Mother - Could be Cohort Member or spouse/partner
—
Subject
—
Subject
NCDS8
Blood samples
9,349
Subject
Biographical
interview
Saliva sample
11,419
—
Consents to
linkage
Biometric measures
c
Children
15,425
NCDS7
Tests
Spouse/
Partner
17,415b
Biomedical
9,534
9,793
Hypothetical life history
Exam results
Parents’ social
class
Training and
skills
Parental
divorce
Born
1958
x
Age 7
Age 11
Voting
behaviour
Age 16
Savings
Gets married
1st Child
2nd Child
1984
1981
Age 23
1987
2000
2004
Age 42
Age 46
1991
Age 33
Mother
smoking
Parental interest
in school work
Free school
meals
Job 1
Job 2
Job 3
Psychological well
being
Maths and reading
tests
Teachers’ assessment of child’s
behaviour
Domestic division of
labour
Union membership
Working hours
preferences
NCDS 11-year old Essays
At age 11, in 1969 NCDS Cohort members completed a short
questionnaire (at school) about leisure interests, preferred school
subjects and expectations on leaving school
They were also asked to write an essay on the following topic:
‘Imagine you are now 25 years old. Write about the life you are
leading, your interests, your home life and your work at the age of
25. (You have 30 minutes to do this).’
13669 essays completed, mean length 204 words
Copies of the original essays (in children’s handwriting) are available
on microfiche at CLS and have been digitised.
Existing research on the essays
A small sample of 521 essays have been coded for word
count
• Boys 180 words
• Girls 228 words
All essays have been coded for employment aspirations,
over 90% give a classifiable occupation
No other systematic coding and analysis of the essays
has been carried out to date
Combining quantitative and qualitative methods
Historical/cultural information provides a context for both qualitative and
quantitative analyses
Analysis of quantitative data collected in 1969 provides a description of the
context in which the essays were written
Large sample and quantitative variables allows for the creation of a stratified
sample for in-depth/qualitative investigation
Qualitative – close reading of essays enables development of a coding frame
that emerges from the text
Coding of essays using new coding frame produces a quantitative description
of a sub-sample of the essays
Extracts from the essays accompanied by a quantitative summary of
frequencies provides a more detailed description of the content and style of
the essays
Quantitative variables van be used to identify a very specific sub-sample of
essays for more in-depth qualitative analysis (and also provides the context
for the essays analysed)
Historical context: being eleven in
1969
Films and TV – cultural reference for children, discourses around
gender and social class
Popular toys, games and activities
Family life: living conditions, housing, role of mother and father
School life: type of school, class sizes, gender of teacher & head
teacher
Political context – including politics of class and gender
Popular toys of the 1960s
The ‘Toy of the year’ Awards began in 1965
• 1965 James Bond Aston Martin Die cast Model car
• 1966 Action Man
• 1967 Spirograph
• 1968 Sindy
• 1969 Hot Wheels Cars
1969 & 1970
Action man
dolls
1969 & 1970
Sindy dolls
Home experiences
46% of the eleven-year-olds were living in owner-occupied
accommodation while 42% were in council housing
At age eleven, 44% of children had their own bedroom
When the child was eleven, 19% of girls and 16% of boys shared
a bed with another member of the family
When the child was eleven, 54% of mothers and 51% of fathers
were reported to take the child for walks, visits or outings
‘most weeks’
When the child was seven, 48.5% of mothers and 34.6% of fathers
were reported to read to the child every week
When the child was sixteen [1974], 58% were in families with only
a black and white TV, 41% were in families with a colour TV,
65% of families had a car and 16% of these had two cars.
School experiences (1969)
The majority of children were in primary schools when
they wrote the essays
Only 4% of children were at independent schools
At age 11 the median class size was 36 pupils (mean
34.3), while at age 7 the median class size had been 37
with a mean of 35.25
82% of children were in a school with a male headteacher
45% of children had a female class teacher
Politics of class and gender in 1969
Wilson’s Labour had governed since 1964 elected on a managerial,
‘class-less’ manifesto stressing modernisation and meritocracy
From 1966 Labour lost a swathe of by-elections and councils in its
traditional industrial, working-class heartlands
In 1968-69 Goldthorpe and Lockwood published The Affluent Worker in
the Class Structure arguing that class differences remained potent
Many concluded that Labour had ‘betrayed’ the working-class rather
than that class was ceasing to be a strong source of Labour support
Equal Pay Act passed 1970 (enacted 1975) ~ Dagenham ♀ strike 1968
But first Women’s Liberation conference in GB only in 1969 (@ Ruskin)
16
Coding the content of the essays
1)
2)
3)
17
All essays were coded for occupational aspirations in the early
1970s (21 categories)
A coding frame for the main themes within the essays was
developed by Elliott and Morrow
A subsample of approximately 500 essays have been transcribed
and coded for these key themes (and are available from the UK Data
Archive)
Results: themes in boys’ and girls’
essays
Gender differences in themes and topics included in children’s essays
Boys (N=243)
Girls (N=252)
Mother
19%
37%
Siblings
7%
20%
Friends
18%
29%
Domestic labour (Child care etc)
22%
55%
Cars
41%
18%
Money/earnings/savings etc
42%
25%
Occupational skills/nature of work
46%
32%
Working hours
27%
35%
Husband/Wife’s occupation
10%
23%
Football
39%
2%
Social class and children’s essays
19
Social class (as Head’s occupation) had no impact on the frequency with
which the children discussed holidays or foreign travel, leisure interests,
money, or occupational skills
Non-manual children were more likely to write about: fathers, travelling
by car & about living in the country
Including information on mother’s occupation & housing tenure into
class model → made occupational skills & housing type significant
But most children – regardless of class background – appeared to write
aspirational essays - imagining a future different from their present lives
Writing about poor children’s essays from 1976 in A Tidy House
Steedman wrote that imagining adult lives: ‘was not a means of talking
about the future, for there was none. Their lives had already been lived’
NCDS essays do not support this intepretation of unchanging workingclass culture – but they
Social class and children’s essays
20
Social class (as Head’s occupation) had no impact on the frequency with
which the children discussed holidays or foreign travel, leisure interests,
money, or occupational skills
Non-manual children were more likely to write about: fathers, travelling
by car & about living in the country
Including information on mother’s occupation & housing tenure into
class model → made occupational skills & housing type significant
But most children – regardless of class background – appeared to write
aspirational essays - imagining a future different from their present lives
Writing about poor children’s essays from 1976 in A Tidy House
Steedman wrote that imagining adult lives: ‘was not a means of talking
about the future, for there was none. Their lives had already been lived’
NCDS essays do not support this interpretation of unchanging workingclass culture – but they DO suggest aspiration was often marked by class
Class and the Qualitative analysis of NCDS Essays
Essays coded BLIND for how children talked about their futures
We coded whether future “wholly unbounded,” “limited or
constrained”, “stable and certain” or “unstable and/or incoherent”
Stable/Unstable futures did not correlate with child’s social class
‘Middle-class’ children 5 times more likely to conjure “unbounded
futures” than ‘working-class’ (c. 3 times more than ‘intermediate’)
‘Working-class’ children almost 4 times more likely to describe a
“limited or constrained” future than ‘middle-class’ children
(‘intermediate’ children were 3 times more likely to do so)
BUT when only girls’ essays were analysed this difference ceased to
be significant – ‘middle-class’ girls also imagined constrained futures
21
Class and the Qualitative analysis of NCDS Essays
Essays coded BLIND for how children talked about their futures
We coded whether future “wholly unbounded,” “limited or
constrained”, “stable and certain” or “unstable and/or incoherent”
Stable/Unstable futures did not correlate with child’s social class
‘Middle-class’ children 5 times more likely to conjure “unbounded
futures” than ‘working-class’ (c. 3 times more than ‘intermediate’)
‘Working-class’ children almost 4 times more likely to describe a
“limited or constrained” future than ‘middle-class’ children
(‘intermediate’ children were 3 times more likely to do so)
BUT when only girls’ essays were analysed this difference ceased to
be significant – ‘middle-class’ girls also imagined constrained futures
22
NCDS Essay – Example 1 (unbounded but unstable)
My age is twenty Five. I am a manager of a big firm I am not married but I am engadged
[engaged] to a young lady called Paula she is 21. Her job is my secroday [secretary]. Every
Saturday I am at Chelsea football match with Paula. After the match we have a drink then drive
home. Once a month we have a firm party. I have four cars Rolls, Bently and 2 minis. When at
work I plan all the new building contracts. These contracts include sky scrapers, Bungalow,
Houses, Farms and even Docks. The Americans have sent us a contract for 200,000,000 dollers
to build a city on the moon. I live in a big house called 'The Villa'. In it there is 10 bedrooms for
entertaining guests, 5 bathrooms and toilets. In the garden there is a swimming pool as big as
Putney and open air with heating A private yacht, you might call me a millionare. I am only this
because my mum owns the firm. My mother owns 27 pubs 18 sweet shops 9 toy shops and 13
Hotels plus 19 grocere [grocery] shops. I go to soc[i]al clubs and many firm meetings. In 1
months time I am of on a trip round the world for places to build towns ect ect. My first part of
the Journey will be by privite jet the second by my Privite Yacht. I am takeing Paula and the
Rolls with 12 men 4 Engineers the other 10 are architects [!] and the men who plan the site.
When I was little I wanted to be a Footballer like GOARGE BEST but I saw this was not as good
as being what I am now. My mother is now a widow my father left our family when I was 9. I
have two brothers in this firm who are in a good position and a sister. But for me I am happy
with my life and Paula and I intend to get married next month.
Male, Unskilled head of house [no father present] 511209D
23
NCDS Essays – Example 2 (bounded and stable)
I am 25 years old. I am married have two children. My friends are all
round about the same age as I am. My hobbies are reading, printing
and model making. At home I mend things that broken cultery
[cutlery,] chairs ect. I am a teacher. We live at Blackpool and go to
the fair at holidays time and sometimes go to morecambe and
hesham. The year after I would like to work in London for a few years.
Male, Skilled manual father 085016W
Social class and gender: conclusions
In summary the essays appear to be very clearly gendered- but despite
the gendered nature of the essays, both boys and girls have
aspirations for family life
There appear to be subtle differences in how children ‘do’ gender
depending on their social class
Compared with gender, there is much less evidence of ‘doing class’
within the essays, but class did influence HOW futures imagined
25
Website
www.cls.ioe.ac.uk
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Appendix
27
Aspirations of boys and girls at age 11top 10 occupations
30.0
25.2
25.0
Boys
Girls
842 boys and 375 girls
expressed aspirations for a
professional occupation in
their essay at age 11.
15.0
14.3
15.0
12.2
12.1
11.6
11.4
9.4
10.0
8.5
6.3
5.6
5.4
5.8
5.0
2.5
1.9
2.8
1.7
1.0
0.4
0.0
Occupation
as
si
st
an
ts
e
Sh
op
ur
s
N
.e
.c
O
th
er
w
or
kn
se
rv
ice
Pe
rs
on
al
en
,w
om
en
II
Sp
or
ts
m
no
n-
m
an
,S
C
al
th
O
Ty
pi
st
s,
cl
er
ic
et
c
Te
ac
he
rs
Pr
of
es
si
on
al
et
c
ille
d
m
an
ua
l
0.0
Sk
Percentage
20.0
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