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Researching Children

On 26 January 2017, The Market Research Society is holding a conference on ‘Kids and Youth Research’, showcasing how research among young people delivers deeper insight.

Market and social research has long been concerned with insight, not only into children’s behaviour and attitudes, but also those of their parents, for example, mothers embarking on motherhood and the anxious early days of caring for young children. Children often have considerable influence on family decision-making. ‘Pester-power’ and its effect was researched in depth. Procter and Gamble and Unilever had their own units in the 50s undertaking research projects to probe women’s attitudes to feeding and other aspects of child care.  Specialist research companies were established in both the qualitative and quantitative sectors, and panels looked at longitudinal behaviour as children grew up. Research examined what children are capable of at different ages, how they differ, how their interests change, what influences them and how they influence others. Children are consumers in their own right but they exert powerful influences on much adult spending and attitudes.

The considerable amount of survey research conducted among children and young people for both economic and sociological purposes, carried with it a responsibility to ensure that their welfare was paramount. Both the MRS and ESOMAR issued strict Codes of Conduct for conducting research among children, ensuring that it was carried out ethically and their needs were always protected.

Nowadays children can be reached via numerous platforms such as social media, Skype and What’s App. Nevertheless observational techniques, groups, depth interviews and panel work through the decades showed the essential role played by research in understanding children’s changing behaviour, as well as differences in parental control. Qualitative research was particularly effective for understanding children’s behaviour. Researchers, usually child psychologists, watched children during play in supportive and friendly environments, and would often join them on the floor to talk to them at their own level. In particular techniques such as observation, play, psychodrawing and psychodrama were used for research with young children. CRAM’s Child and Family Unit emphasised the importance of sampling both children and adults in understanding the dynamics of this group. ‘Children’, CRAM pointed out, ‘are also tomorrow’s adult consumers’.

A survey conducted in 1980 by Retail Audits Ltd found that the top ten  character-based toys stocked by UK shops were:

1. Mr Men,

2. Paddington Bear;

3. Hollie Hobby

4. The Muppets

5. Star Wars

6. Snoopy

7. Walt Disney

8. The Incredible Hulk

9. Superman

10. Mickey Mouse.

At a guess Paddington Bear and Disney characters, at least, will still be stocked.

In Autumn 1990 Survey magazine published a special issue on ‘The Seven Ages of Man’.  Phyllis Vangelder wrote in the editorial “What Jacques speech (in As you like it) did, long before the word ‘segmentation’ came into modern use, was to point to different age groups and cohorts with different values and lifestyles’. Among the subjects covered in the issue were research among pregnant women, Lego, children’s reading habits and 13-15 year olds,  a particular age group caught, at that time, between the innocence of childhood and the turbulence of young adulthood, and an insightful examination of ‘Young Britain’ by the specialist children’s researcher Carrick James.


These are only some of the fascinating trend data we are collecting for the Archive. Watch the website for further ‘nuggets’. If you have any relevant material (including ephemera) you can donate please contact Phyllis Vangelder (; tel: 020 8904 2019). For qualitative data please contact Judith Wardle ( or Simon Patterson (



Articles in Survey Autumn 1990 ‘The Seven Ages of Man’:

Bounty Babies’. Roger Graffy and Sheila Robinson. Research among mothers-to-be.

Lego – building a new world’. Andrew Vincent. A case history from Lego.

‘Life – an open book’. Chris Brookes. Children’s reading habits

‘Too old to play, too young to boogie’ Mark Ratcliff. A look at 13-15 year-olds

‘Young Britain’. Carrick James. An examination of the changing youth market.