what is longitudinal research

A longitudinal study (or longitudinal survey, or panel study) is a research design that involves repeated observations of the same variables (e.g., people) over long periods of time, often many decades (i.e., uses longitudinal data). It is often a type of observational study, although they can also be structured as longitudinal randomized experiments

Longitudinal studies are often used in psychology, to study developmental trends across the life span, and in sociology, to study life events throughout lifetimes or generations. The reason for this is that unlike cross-sectional studies, in which different individuals with the same characteristics are compared, longitudinal studies track the same people and so the differences observed in those people are less likely to be the result of cultural differences across generations. Longitudinal studies thus make observing changes more accurate and are applied in various other fields. In medicine, the design is used to uncover predictors of certain diseases. In advertising, the design is used to identify the changes that advertising has produced in the attitudes and behaviors of those within the target audience who have seen the advertising campaign. Longitudinal studies allow social scientists to distinguish short from long-term phenomena, such as poverty

If the poverty rate is 10% at a point in time, this may mean that 10% of the population are always poor or that the whole population experiences poverty for 10% of the time. It is impossible to conclude which of these possibilities is the case by using one-off cross-sectional studies