The Lifespan Collection

Intensive life history research data collected over a ten-year period among 500 family members in London


The Lifespan Collection represents research interview material collected over a 10-year period in the 1990s, of families living in North London. Over 500 family members were involved with each providing their life stories from childhood to the present day. The Collection covers three generations: midlife women (aged 25-55); adolescent offspring both boys and girls (aged 16-30); and older age women (aged 50-85). These represent mother-offspring pairs.

The research was part of a rolling programme of Medical Council Research funding through the 1980s and 1990s, investigating psychosocial risks for depression and other common psychological disorders in women and their families. The programmes were originally directed by Professor George Brown, a pioneer in sociology, who advocated the use of contextual interviews for assessing life experience and vulnerability in relation to depression. The last two programme grants (1990-95 and 1995-99) were designed and project managed by Antonia Bifulco and the data was transferred to her after Professor Brown’s retirement and is held by the Lifespan Research Group at Middlesex University.

This unique data set has been the source of many research publications into topics such as childhood neglect/abuse; adult stress and coping; attachment style; self-esteem; relationship with partner and parenting behaviour as well as lifetime psychiatric disorders both affective and behavioural. However, the qualitative aspects are as yet largely untapped and additional analyses still wait to be undertaken. For the 500 and more individuals interviewed about their life history, the collection includes a few thousand audio-tapes containing their narrative accounts.

The two programme grants were each of 5 years duration. Their aim was to further understand the psychosocial origins of common psychosocial disorders using a Lifespan perspective. Five inter-related projects were involved.

i) Midlife women at risk (1990-5)

  • The Sisters project – 100 pairs of sisters raised together and interviewed independently about their childhood experience and subsequent adult life. Over half were selected for experience of neglect or abuse in childhood.

  • Mothers coping with risk – 110 mothers selected for vulnerability in terms of ongoing problems in relationships or low self-esteem but free from depression at first contact. These women were followed up 3 times over a year to examine new onsets of depression.

ii) Follow-up and Investigating family members across generations (1995-9)

  • Follow-up of the women - 150 women interviewed in the first series were reinterviewed to look at change in vulnerability and disorder over time.

  • Adolescent series - 146 adolescent offspring, paired with mothers from the midlife risk women who were also followed up. Additional new mother-adolescent pairs were added to extend the sample (14).

  • Older age mothers - 80 older-age mothers of the midlife daughters were contacted and agreed to be interviewed. There were limited numbers linked to original sample so a new selection of older age mothers were added to increase numbers.



Five hundred people recall their life story… all kept  in one collection

Memories of childhood and of adult life: adversity, support relationships ...

Reports of coping style, self esteem,
relating styles,
psychological disorders ...