Randy Olsen

Project Director at CHRR

Center for Human Resource Research, Ohio State University

Years on the NLS team: 1987-present

Role: As project director and former PI, I have been involved in a variety of activities supporting the NLS.

What innovations have I helped introduce to the NLS

I’ve been involved in very nearly every instrument that has gone to the field since 1988, although more on some than others. I helped move the NLSY79 to computerized data collection and the revamping of the entire data management, processing and dissemination system. In addition, starting in 2002, we moved the NLSY79 toward a field approach that emphasized incentivizing respondents to use modes of data collection that reduced the cost of data collection, allowing the team to put more resources into securing the cooperation of reluctant respondents. Finally, I helped coordinate efforts to maintain NLS funding when threats arose; at those times, the support of NLS users was the crucial factor in saving the NLS.

Why am I proud to be part of the NLS team

The term “team” is well-chosen. It is impressive how broad the distribution of skills must be to keep the NLS running. The many agencies that have supported the NLS over the years have been an incredible resource, showing inter-agency cooperation at its very finest. Helping hold this team together has been at turns very difficult and very satisfying.

The NLS has played a significant role in social science research. The study has been faithful to the original intent of being used to study the evolution of people’s labor force involvement over the life course. Perhaps just as remarkable has been its role in supporting interdisciplinary research. For example, the child cohort has played an outsized role in studying child development in the U.S., supporting extensive research into children’s social, emotional and cognitive development. At the outset, the child cohort was aimed at encouraging the use of secondary data sources in the developmental psychology community, at which it was very successful.

The NLS has also exploited economies of scale and scope by incorporating key measures needed by other disciplines to support holistic research into the behavioral of people over the life-cycle. Economists, sociologists, psychologists and policy mavens fr m across the country have benefitted from adding additional measures to the NLS that have greatly increased the span of research topics to which the NLS can be applied.

Finally, it is essential to mention the contribution of respondents and the devoted and hard-working interviewers and field managers at both Census and NORC. By allowing interviewers to ask our many questions, the respondents have built what is one of the nation’s most important resources for understanding how America and its citizens have changed over the last half-century. In celebrating the NLS, we celebrate America---and the NLS should be a source of pride for BLS, the Department of Labor, NIH and other agencies as well as the project and field staff who have transformed the contributions of the respondents into a force for quality research.