The Girlhood and Later Life project (aka Transitions and Mobilities) is the first detailed study of girls growing up in Britain in the 1950s to 1970s. Focusing on women born 1939-52 it explores:
- their experiences of being teenagers and young women in Britain 1954-76
- the implications of their youth for their later life experiences and identities.
The research employed four quantitative and qualitative methods:
- Documentary and archival research; including newspapers, film and official publications;
- Statistical analysis of existing survey data;
- Qualitative analysis of existing survey data;
- Interviews with women born 1939-52, using innovative mixed-methods approach.
The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Ref ES/P00122X/1.
Documentary and archival research
We did an extensive study of official publications, youth organisation archives, newspapers, film, popular magazines for girls and young women.
This research showed how mobility was a key feature of modern girlhood. Girls of this period were ‘on the move’: leaving home as a first step to independence, travelling for education or work, or migrating to cities to spread their wings. But mobility could also be risky, leading to loneliness or financial or personal difficulties.
Read: ‘Going places or out of place? Representations of mobile girls and young women in late 1950s and 1960s Britain’ by P Tinkler (2020) Twentieth Century History, 32(2): 165-324 https://doi.org/10.1093/tcbh/hwaa006.
Secondary analysis of longitudinal surveys
The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) is the backbone of this part. It was launched in 2002 to generate data about the lifecourses and ageing of people born pre-1954 in England.
- Using ELSA data, this article demonstrates that inequality in transitions out of full-time education cast a long shadow for the generation of women who are currently reaching later life.
Girls’ transition to adulthood and their later life socioeconomic attainment: Findings from the English longitudinal study of ageing. Advances in Life Course Research, Xue B, Tinkler P, Zaninotto P, McMunn A, (2020). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.alcr.2020.100352
- Using ELSA data, this article reveals that women who made early transitions to married parenthood and full-time domestic labour had lower levels of life satisfaction and quality of life, and a higher level of depressive symptoms, compared to women who made later transitions to family life and remained employed.
The Long Shadow of Youth: Girls’ Transition From Full-Time Education and Later-Life Subjective Well-Being in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, The Journals of Gerontology: Series B October 30th 76(9): 1838-1856,Xue B, Tinker P, McMunn A (2021) https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbaa108 .
We also used the National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD) which has followed through to the present a sample of children born in Britain in 1946; this includes girls from Wales, Scotland and England.
Qualitative analysis of existing survey data
Most survey data is collected from individuals and then pooled to generate big datasets which allow us to see patterns across populations (like in our analysis of girls’ transitions into parenthood above).
As well as doing this, we did something much more unusual by going back to study some individual participants in the ELSA and NSHD surveys as individual case studies. This allowed us to track their personal journeys through each stage of the survey data.
- This article sets out our novel approach to the qualitative restudy of the NSHD, one that allowed us to go beyond its original parameters – to generate population-level quantitative data – and to recompose persons.
Recomposing Persons: Scavenging and Storytelling in a Birth Cohort Archive. History of the Human Sciences, 34(3-4): 266-289, Tinkler P, Cruz R, & Fenton L, (2021) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0952695121995398
- In this chapter we draw on a study of the NSHD to explore the turn to bioinformation with particular reference to the relational.
‘The kinship of bioinformation: relations in an evolving archive.’ Cruz R, Tinkler P, Fenton L. (Forthcoming 2022) In S. Posocco and EJ Gonzalez-Polledo (eds) Bioinformation Worlds and Futures, Routledge.
Interviews with innovative mixed-method approach
We invited a group of 70 women who already take part in the ELSA survey each to take part in two interviews with us. We asked them about their lives and experiences as teenagers and young women. Then we invited them to reflect on how these experiences had affected their identities and later lives.
We also used:
- Music elicitation (using favourite music from the 1950s-70s to spark memories of the time)
- A ‘then and now‘ exercise (using photos to reflect on identity and experiences at different times of life)
- Biographical mapping (using important places and journeys to recall earlier experiences)
The ‘then and now’ exercise and biographical mapping were new methods created especially for this project.
The Then and now photo blog on this website is based on our interview exercise. If you are a woman born 1939-54 you are welcome to take part!
See our biographical mapping page for lots more about this technique and how to make a map either for your own interest or as part of a community or group project.