Meet Herbert S. Parnes

The First Director of the NLS Program at Ohio State

Herb Parnes is regarded as the “founding father” of the NLS, and was largely responsible for the early success of the NLS as an important source of data for research in the social and behavioral sciences. As old-timers can confirm, Herb was so closely associated with the NLS that, for many years, researchers habitually referred to the NLS as “the Parnes data.” Herb Parnes:

  • … was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1919, to Joseph and Bessie Parnes
  • … attended Schenley High School, where he planned to become a doctor
  • … entered the University of Pittsburgh in 1935 at the age of 16 and received an M.A. in Economics from Pitt in 1941
  • … was in the first year of his Ph.D. program at Pitt when drafted in 1942, and became a flight navigation instructor during World War II ... married his wife, Atha, in September 1944 and had a daughter in October 1945, just before shipping out to Japan as part of the occupation force
  • … returned to Pitt in the fall of 1946, later transferring to The Ohio State University to complete his Ph.D. in economics
  • … received his Ph.D. in June 1950, eventually becoming Professor of Economics at Ohio State; had two more children along the way
  • … served for a year as a consultant to the OECD in Paris, researching education planning for the Mediterranean Regional Project
  • … was serving as co-director of CHRR in 1964 when he was invited by the US Department of Labor to prepare a research proposal to interview a cohort of mid-career men. This proposal was so well-received that it was extended to include a cohort of young men and, at the urging of the DOL Women’s Bureau, two cohorts of women. These four groups of respondents became the Original Cohorts of the National Longitudinal Surveys.
  • … left OSU in 1981 to teach at Rutgers, but retained an association with CHRR
  • … returned to CHRR to direct the 1990 reinterview of the surviving members of the Older Men cohort
  • … passed away in 2006, survived by Atha, three children, and seven grandchildren

Herb Parnes on aspects of the NLS to which he would point with pride:

I’m quite willing to claim credit for the orientation of our research, which from the very start was focused on important policy issues. The most general statement of the conceptual framework I used starts with the premise that the productive roles of members of the labor force—and how well men and women perform them—are important to society at large as well as the individuals involved. The achievement of society’s goals depends on the quality of its human resources—on the skill and know-how of its work force. From the point of view of the individual, the work role is important not only in defining and identifying the person but in substantially influencing the quality of his/her life. This of course doesn’t mean that the productive role is the most important one; men and women play a variety of significant roles: they are spouses, parents, members of a neighborhood and community, citizens of a nation and of the world. Above all, they are thinking, feeling beings whose self-fulfillment is an important end in itself—not only for the individual but also for any humane society….

Our research orientation and its implementation were sufficiently attractive to Howard Rosen and his associates [at the Department of Labor] that funding of the NLS was continuous. There are at least four other aspects of the NLS experience in which I allow myself to take pride. I’m proud of the staff I recruited and of the esprit that developed among us. I’m also proud of the relationships we developed with the Department of Labor and the Bureau of the Census. Both of these reflected the mutual confidence and respect that prevailed and made the joint effort more productive as well as enjoyable. Still another source of pride lies in the fact that from the beginning we insisted on sharing the NLS data bank with the entire research community rather than attempting to maintain a proprietary interest in it. Finally, it’s hard not to be proud of the quantity and variety of research that has been done both at Ohio State and literally throughout the entire world in the basis of the NLS data.

Quotes from: Parnes, Herbert S. A Prof’s Life: It’s More Than Teaching. Lincoln, NE: Writer’s Showcase, 2001.

… to the individuals at the U.S. Department of Labor, the Center for Human Resource Research at Ohio State University, NORC at the University of Chicago, and the U.S. Census Bureau who teamed together to conduct the NLS for 50 years. Without the hard work and dedication of these individuals, there would be no NLS!

If you are current or former member of the NLS team and would like to add your “staff” profile to this website, please contact and we will send you a link to the profile submission page.