BLS Handbook of Methods

In This Chapter

Chapter 7.
National Longitudinal Surveys

Background
The National Longitudinal Surveys (NLS) are a set of surveys designed to gather information at multiple points in time on the labor market experiences (for example, employment histories and job characteristics) of six groups of the U. S. population. For more than three decades, NLS data have served as an important tool for economists, sociologists, government analysts, and other researchers who are interested in the study of employment behavior and human capital investments, among other topics.

The NLS were begun in the mid-1960s with the drawing of four samples: Young men were 14 to 24 years old as of December 31, 1965; young women were 14 to 24 years old as of December 31, 1967; older men were 45 to 59 years old as of December 31, 1965; and mature women were 30 to 44 years old as of December 31, 1966. Each sample originally had about 5,000 individuals, with an overrepresentation of blacks. In the early 1980s, the surveys of young men and older men were discontinued. (However, there was a followup of the older men or their widows or other family members in 1990.) The two women's surveys continue and are currently collected on a biennial cycle.

In 1979, a new cohort was begun with a sample of more than 12,000 young men and women who were 14 to 21 years old as of December 31, 1978. This sample included oversamples of blacks, Hispanics, economically disadvantaged nonblacks and non-Hispanics, and youths in the military. The military oversample was discontinued after the 1984 survey, and the economically disadvantaged nonblack and non-Hispanic oversample was discontinued in 1990. This survey is called the Youth 1979 data set, or NLSY79; its cohort was interviewed annually from 1979 to 1994 and on a biennial basis thereafter.

In 1997, data collection began for the sixth NLS cohort. The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (NLSY97) documents the transition from school to work for a group of approximately 9,000 young people aged 12 to 16 as of December 31, 1996. This cohort is interviewed on an annual basis and includes oversamples of black and Hispanic youths.

Besides collecting information about labor market experiences, the surveys have gathered information regularly about a range of factors potentially affecting labor market attachment, including investments in education and training, local labor market conditions, parental influence, marital and fertility histories, income and assets, and participation in government assistance programs.

With the advent of the NLSY79 in the late 1970s, the content of the surveys expanded to reflect the interests of other government agencies besides the U.S. Department of Labor. For example, support from the U.S. Department of Defense made possible the administration of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to youths in the NLSY79 in 1980 and, later, to the NLSY97 cohort. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) has provided funds for assessments and surveys of the children of female respondents in the NLSY79 and the development of the fertility and childcare components of the NLSY79. The 1989 National Longitudinal Survey of Mature Women pension-matching project received funding from other agencies in the Department of Labor, as well as from the Social Security Administration and the National Institute on Aging. The National School-to-Work Office (which is jointly funded by the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor) both sponsored the 1996 and 2000 school surveys of the NLSY97 and provided funding for the collection of high school transcript data for the cohort. In addition, sections of the NLSY97 are funded by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and by NICHD.

Next: Sampling

Last Modified Date: September 25, 2003

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