Meet an Actual (Anonymous) NLSY79 Respondent

For this 50th anniversary website, we arranged for a NORC field interviewer to conduct a special, five-minute interview with an NLSY79 respondent. This was not a trivial endeavor: a questionnaire was designed, both NORC and CHRR applied for and received IRB approval, BLS granted approval, the NORC staff enlisted the help of a veteran NLSY79 interviewer, the interviewer contacted a respondent, and the respondent graciously agreed to schedule this extra interview. The interview was conducted via telephone in late May, 2015 and transcribed here in its entirety.

We hope you agree that it was well worth the effort! We are delighted to present this “once in 50 years” opportunity to learn directly from a respondent why she participates in the NLS—and to gain a new perspective on why our respondents are the MVPs of the NLS.

Field Interviewer (FI): You have participated in the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth since it began 36 years ago. Thinking back to 1979, what was memorable about that very first interview?

Respondent (R): Oh—that was 36 years ago! That’s a long time to remember back. I thought it was interesting, I guess, to be able to participate in something where I could give simple answers about myself, but have that paint a broader picture of what my generation was looking like.

FI: Ok, and what else?

R: Um, I don’t remember anything else about it in particular! I don’t think it was the very first one where we actually took the test. [Editor: the respondent refers to the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, which was administered to NLSY79 respondents in 1980.] I think the first one was a standard interview. And so I don’t remember the specifics of the way it went!

FI: Can you share your reasons for being such a loyal participant over the years?

R: Well, (in my job). . . .I work with data all day long. I guess I like the idea of being able to supply the information I do so that it can be used to draw an accurate view of what people in my generation have been able to accomplish in our lives. A lot of the data has to do with where our education has taken us, and the type of ongoing education that we participate in currently, and how that has translated into our careers and our families and the health and welfare of those families. So the reason for the loyalty, I guess, is because I think we are getting good information from it.

FI: The information provided by you and all the other survey participants is used by researchers to analyze important policy issues. Do you think about the value of the information you provide, and does it motivate you to continue participating in the survey?

R: Absolutely. You know, it’s not like policy can be shaped by talking to every individual in the country. And so I think this data is actually, probably, better data than a lot of the quicker polls that are taken to try to determine people’s opinion about things. I think we are getting better information this way.

FI: During each interview, we ask you questions about many different aspects of your life. Which questions or subject areas do you enjoy discussing with us the most?

R: Hmmm. [Pause] I suppose it’s a combination of two opposing things. One is my career and the types of hours I work and the types of things I do— and then the opposite of that, which has more to do with our family and the general information about what makes up our lives.

One of my favorites, several years ago, was they asked how often my husband and I laugh together. I decided that was a really good way to determine the health of a marriage— so, lots of things where it’s obvious that they’re putting a pretty good puzzle together of the balance of life.

FI: Which questions or subject areas do you find to be the most challenging to answer?

R: Hmmm. [Long pause] Well. . . . . I guess some of the questions have to do with areas where it’s really hard to decide whether the answer is “strongly agree” or “very much agree.” You know, the degrees to which you are going to agree or the degrees to which you are going to disagree with something. Those are a little bit challenging sometimes.

In particular, I suppose, when we get into some details about work life, it’s a little bit difficult to put certain types of jobs into the right categories and answers. My husband used to work a very weird schedule and it was always hard to define his schedule in the process. But that’s about all.

FI: Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience as a participant in the National Longitudinal Survey?

R: I would! One of the things that they started doing with me after my children were born is, they started including my children. Initially, just with a few short questions as part of my own interview. But it was very enlightening as they would ask the children the questions they did about how they were doing in school—as separate and apart from a school test, you know—but things they were actually understanding well enough to be able to answer.

And they have continued to track the children as they have grown up. . . .So now there’s generational information beyond my own to see how the decisions my husband and I have made over the years have now impacted my children.

FI: Let me end with a type of question that will be very familiar to you: Overall, how do you feel about being a participant in the National Longitudinal Survey? Do you like it very much, like it fairly well, dislike it somewhat, or dislike it very much?

R: That one’s easy. I like it very much.

FI: Thank you for participating in this special interview. We greatly appreciate your assistance, and your ongoing participation in the National Longitudinal Survey.

R: You are very welcome!

… to the 53,669 respondents who agreed to be (repeatedly) interviewed during the first 50 years of the NLS. The NLS researchers and staff who are also acknowledged on this anniversary website are humbled by the patience, generosity, and loyalty of NLS respondents. These men, women, and children are the NLS!