Longitudinal Research in Social Science: Some Theoretical Challenges

  • Thomas K. Burch Population Studies Centre, University of Western Ontario, London Ontario


Every advance carries with it potential problems, and longitudinal analysis is no exception. This paper focuses on the problems related to the massive amounts of data generated by longitudinal surveys. It is argued that a proliferation of data may be to the good but it will not necessarily lead to better scientific knowledge. Most demographers think the logical positivist way that theory arises out of empirical generalisations, but massive empirical investigations have only led to disappointing theoretical outcomes in demography. This paper discusses one way out of this impasse - to adopt a different view of theory, a model-based view of science. Theoretical models based on empirical generalisation should become the main representational device in science.