50 Years of the NLS

Since its inception in the 1960s, the National Longitudinal Surveys (NLS) have gathered information at multiple points in time on labor market experiences and significant life events of seven cohorts of men, women and children. While labor market experiences have always been a core focus of the NLS, questionnaire content covers schooling, training, skills, income and assets, family formation, fertility, household formation, attitudes and expectations, and much more. [Click here for an overview of topics that can be studied with the NLS.]

The program began with four “original” cohorts:

  1. The Young Men cohort began with 5,225 men born in 1941-51 (ages 14-24 in 1966). Sample members were interviewed 12 times in 1966-71, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1980 and 1981. The final interview in 1981 was conducted with 3,398 men ages 29-40.
  2. The Older Men cohort began with 5,020 men born in 1906-21 (ages 45-69 in 1966). Sample members were interviewed 12 times from 1966 to 1983, and a 13th time in 1990. The final interview in 1990 was conducted with 2,092 respondents who were 69-83 years old and 2,206 family members of deceased respondents.
  3. The Young Women cohort began in 1968 with 5,159 women born in 1943-53 (ages 14-24 in 1968). Samples members were interviewed 22 times from 1968 to 2003. The final interview in 2003 was conducted with 2,857 women ages 49-59.
  4. The Mature Women cohort began in 1967 with 5,083 women born in 1922-37 (ages 3044 in 1967). Sample members were interviewed 21 times from 1967 to 2003. The final interview in 2003 was conducted with 2,237 women ages 66-80. The Young Women and Mature Women cohorts were combined from 1995 to 2003 and referred to during that period as the Women’s cohort.

Respondents in the four original cohorts are no longer interviewed, but data remain available for analysis and efforts are underway to link individual-specific administrative data to the existing database.

From the late 1970s to the late 1990s, three new NLS cohorts were added. The three “active” cohorts are:

  1. The 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79), which began in 1979 with 12,686 men and women born in 1957-64 (ages 14-22 in 1979). Sample members were interviewed annually from 1979 to 1994 and biennially thereafter. The 2012 interview was conducted with 7,301 respondents ages 48-56. Data from the 26th interview conducted in 2014 will become available for public use in 2016.
  2. The NLSY79 Child and Young Adult cohort began in 1986 with children born to female NLSY79 respondents. Biennial data collection consists of a battery of cognitive, socioemotional and physiological assessments of the children, interviews with the mothers, and interviews with the children themselves; from 1994 onward, children age 15 and older have been administered a “young adult” questionnaire that is similar to the NLSY79 questionnaire. To date, data have been collected for a total of 11,512 children.
  3. The 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY97), which began in 1997 with 8,984 men and women born in 1980-84 (ages 12-17 in 1997). Sample members were interviewed annually from 1997 to 2011 and biennially thereafter. The 2013 interview was conducted with 7,141 respondents ages 28-34.

The NLS was originally sponsored by the Office of Manpower, Automation, and Training, which subsequently became the Employment and Training Administration; this agency is part of the U.S. Department of Labor. In 1986, sponsorship of the NLS was taken over by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is also part of the U.S. Department of Labor. Major funding for the Child and Young Adult cohort is provided by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. [Click here for a list of other agencies and organizations that have funded the NLS.]

The original NLS cohorts were conducted under contract with ETA/BLS by the Center for Human Resource Research (CHRR) at Ohio State University and the U.S. Census Bureau. The three “active” cohorts are conducted under contract with BLS by CHRR and NORC at the University of Chicago.

… to the 23 federal agencies and private foundations that provided financial support during the first 50 years of the NLS. Without the commitment to science of these funders, there would be no NLS!

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics (U.S. Department of Labor)
  • Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (National Institutes of Health)
  • Bureau of Justice Statistics (U.S. Department of Justice)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
  • Employment and Training Administration (U.S. Department of Labor)
  • Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
  • Foundation for Child Development
  • John Templeton Foundation
  • National Center for Research in Vocational Education (U.S. Department of Education)
  • National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities (National Institutes of Health)
  • National Institute of Education (U.S. Department of Education)
  • National Institute on Aging (National Institutes of Health)
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (National Institutes of Health)
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (National Institutes of Health)
  • National School-to-Work Office (U.S. Departments of Education and Labor)
  • National Science Foundation
  • Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (U.S. Department of Justice)
  • Office of Manpower Policy, Evaluation, and Research (U.S. Department of Labor)
  • Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration (U.S. Department of Labor)
  • U.S. Department of Defense
  • U.S. Social Security Administration
  • Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (U.S. Department of Labor)
  • Women’s Bureau (U.S. Department of Labor)