Learn to Speak Eneless (NLS)

From R, Xrnd, Gator, Qname, and other words that are specific to the NLS to terms that can be traced to a root survey language (CAPI, PAPI, skip pattern, etc.), NLS users have a lot to learn. This primer will have you fluent in Eneless in no time:

Area of Interest
An NLS Investigator search function that enables users to identify all variables that pertain to a cohort-specific topical area. Using the NLSY97 for illustration, areas of interest range from "assets and debts" to "youth, self administered." See also tree structure.
A term used to refer collectively to the many tests and scales administered to Child respondents. Assessments include the Behavioral Problems Index, the Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT) for math and reading, the Memory for Digit Span assessment, and many more. Although respondents in other cohorts are administered “tests” (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, Rotter Locus of Control, CES-D, etc.) the term “assessment” is typically reserved for the Child cohort.
Asterisk Tables
Born in the era of low-tech, hard-copy documentation, these cohort-specific tables list a large number of variables by topic, contain a column for each survey year, and use asterisks to provide a quick overview of which variables were asked in which years. Here is an example for the Mature Women: https://www.nlsinfo.org/content/cohorts/mature-and-young-women/topical-guide/asterisk
Acronym for computer-assisted personal interview. An interview method that combines face-to-face ("in person") interviews with computerized questionnaires. The NLSY79 switched from PAPI to CAPI/CATI in 1993 and the (Young and Mature) Women did so in 1995.
Acronym for computer-assisted telephone interview. An interview method that combines telephone interviews with computerized questionnaires. See CAPI.
Check items
Questions on the questionnaire that are not asked of respondents. Instead, check items are used to determine how to proceed with the interview. For example, a check item might determine whether the respondent is in the universe for the next question, thereby defining the skip pattern.
CPS job
See CPS questions.
CPS questions
A series of labor market questions asked in select rounds of the NLSY79 and NLSY97 that replicate questions asked in the Current Population Survey (CPS). In both the CPS and the NLS, these questions are used to create a variable called "Employment Status Recode," which identifies the individual's employment status (working, active military service, unemployed, etc.) during the week prior to the interview week. These questions are referred to as "CPS questions" and the current/most recent (primary) job about which these questions are asked is often referred to as the CPS job.
Created variables
Many variables available to researchers are “raw” responses to questions asked directly of respondents, but many others are created by NLS staff after the interviews are completed. Created variables typically bring multiple pieces of information to bear to provide edited, cleaned, and/or revised information (e.g., highest degree received, date of first marriage), to provide total or cumulative amounts (e.g., total net worth, weeks worked over a period of time), or to put information into an easily-used form.
Acronym (sort of) for “cumulative created variable.” This is a specific type of created variable in the NLSY97 that combines data across rounds regardless of interview status. For instance, the NLSY97 variable CVC_TTL_BIO_CHILD (total number of biological children born to the respondent), was cre¬ated by tallying up the children reported by the respondent across all the rounds in which the respondent was interviewed. See also created variable.
Early Bird
A respondent who, upon receiving an “advance letter” prior to the fielding of a given survey round, calls to arrange an (early) interview rather than waiting to be contacted by fielding staff.
Plural of the Latin word erratum, meaning an error in printing or writing. . . . or data processing. When programming or processing errors are found to affect select variables, the corrected versions of the variables are posted to the errata page of the NLS website (https://www.nlsinfo.org/). This enables data users to receive the corrected data without waiting for the next full-scale data release.
Event history
A data structure that identifies a near-complete "history" of events such as school enrollment, employment, marriage, fertility, and participation in government assistance programs. An event history for employment might identify the start and stop date of each job held, as well as point-in-time characteristics of each job and week-by-week employment status indicators; an event history for marriage might identify the start and stop date of each marriage as well as characteristics of each partner and month-by-month marital status indicators. Questionnaires designed to collect event history data tend to be quite complicated, but the payoff is enormously rich data that effectively allow us to "observe" respondents on a continuous basis rather than only at interview dates. The NLS has been a pioneer in collecting event history data, especially for the NLSY79 and NLSY97.
Acronym for Federal Information Processing Standards. The federal government establishes FIPS as a means of standardizing all sorts of things. In the NLS, FIPS codes are available (as part of the geocode data) to identify respondents’ residential locations.
Flap item
See info sheet.
See Investigator.
Geocode data
Restricted-used data available for all seven NLS cohorts that contain more detailed geographic information than is provided with public use data, including FIPS codes. Geocode data also identify colleges attended by respondents. Whereas anyone can search and download public use data using NLS Investigator, geocode data are available only to U.S.-based researchers who have been granted permission by BLS.
Info sheet
Short for information sheet. The part of the survey instrument that lists relevant information collected during prior interviews, including marital status, date of last interview, and information about past employers. In PAPI questionnaires, info sheets would be hand-written “flaps” attached to the paper questionnaire that interviewers could fold out and read during the interview; hence the term flap item. In CAPI/CATI, an info sheet is not a “sheet,” but is merely electronic information that is automatically inserted into questions and check items.
Short for survey instrument. Often used as a synonym for “questionnaire,” but technically a broader term that includes supplemental questionnaires, household interview forms, household rosters, and any other documents used to collect data.
Interviewer checks
See check items.
Invalid skip
In contrast to valid skips, invalid skips occur when a respondent is not asked a question or set of questions in error. Invalid skips were more common with PAPI interviews, because interviewers could not always correctly navigate the questionnaire’s complicated skip patterns. With CAPI/CATI, the computer does the work.
Investigator (aka NLS Investigator and 'Gator)
Software that allows users to search, view, download, and analyze NLS data. NLS Investigator was designed at Ohio State University in the early 1990s specifically for the NLS. It has subsequently been developed for surveys other than the NLS. Available at www.nlsinfo.org/investigator.
Paper-and-pencil interview. An interview method in which information obtained from the respondent is entered on a paper (hardcopy) questionnaire, and then entered into a computer database by a data entry staff. PAPI was used for the NLS until CAPI and CATI were introduced in the early 1990s.
Primary variable
The highest of three preference levels used in Investigator to classify NLS variables. By selecting primary variables only, NLS users can confine Investigator database searches to “important” variables, including created variables, roster variables, and “raw” responses that are not superseded by preferred variables. See also secondary variable and tertiary variable.
Short for question name. Variable names associated with each NLS variable. In contrast to RNUMs, Qnames often invoke the nature of the variable; e.g., AFDC_STATUS_2008.8 in the NLSY97 identifies whether the respondent received AFDC benefits in August, 2008.
Short for questionnaire. See instrument.
Short for respondent. An abbreviation used extensively in NLS questionnaires. Not to be confused with RNUM.
Short for reference number. Numbers that uniquely identify each NLS variable and remain unchanged as variables are added to the database. Originally, all NLS reference numbers began with the letter R (for reference, not respondent); e.g., R00021.01 in the Young Men cohort is the variable identifying 1966 interview month. While that convention was maintained for all original cohort variables, the vast number of variables in the NLSY79 and NLSY97 led to the use of reference numbers beginning with the letters A, B, E, G, H, T, W, and Z. In the Child/Young adult cohort, all reference numbers begin with the letter C (for child) or Y (for young adult). See also Qname.
A list or grid created within the survey instrument to facilitate the interview. In the NLSY97, for example, a roster of schools attended since the last interview is updated or formed, and then questions are asked about attendance at each school on the roster.
Short for household screener interview. An interview conducted for the sole purpose of finding sample members. Because the sample for each NLS cohort consists of individuals born within a specific birth range who meet a small number of additional characteristics, the screening process entailed visiting targeted households and determining whether household members met the selection criteria and were willing to participate in the survey.
Secondary variable
The middle of three preference levels used in Investigator to classify NLS variables. Secondary variables tend to be “raw” responses to questions asked of respondents that are superseded by created variables or roster variables, including edited or revised versions of the secondary variable. NLS users rarely need to include secondary variables in their Investigator searches. See also primary variable and tertiary variable.
Skip pattern
Because not all respondents are asked every question in the questionnaire (see universe), the skip pattern describes the sequence of questions asked of a respondent with a given set of characteristics. See also valid skip and invalid skip.
Supplement, child (CS)
A survey instrument (questionnaire) used to conduct interviews with child (not young adult) respondents in the NLSY79 Child and Young Adult cohort. The CS is used to ask select questions of the mother, conduct child assessments, ask questions of the children, and record interviewer observations. Because each Child interview is tied to the mother’s NLSY79 interview, this instrument is considered a supplement to the NLSY79 questionnaire. See also supplement, mother.
Supplement, employer (ES)
A component of the NLSY79 survey instrument used to collect data on each employed encountered since the date of the last interview.
Supplement, mother (MS)
A survey instrument (questionnaire) used to collect information from mothers whose children participate in the NLSY79 Child and Young Adult cohort. Each mother (who is herself a NLSY79 respondent) answers question about each of her biological children. See also supplement, child.
Tertiary variable
The lowest of three preference levels used in Investigator to classify NLS variables. Tertiary variables tend to be check items that NLS users rarely need for their analyses, so Investigator has a function that allows them to exclude these variables from searches. See also primary variable and secondary variable.
Tree structure
An NLS staff nickname for the new search index recently added to Investigator. Using any NLS cohort, users can click on "browse index" to see an index of broad terms (employment, children, health, survey methodology, etc.). Clicking on any category reveals a number of sub-categories; once a suitably narrow category is chosen, all the relevant variables for the given cohort are displayed. This new index was designed to be uniform across NLS cohorts. Note that Investigator also allows users to search by "area of interest," question name (qname), rnum, survey year, etc.
Unfolding brackets
A questionnaire format pioneered by the Panel Study of Income Dynamics in the early 1980s that reduces item nonresponse for questions requiring a “dollar amount” as the answer. If a respondent does not know the dollar amount (e.g., for income received in the last year, or the value of a specific type of financial asset), he/she is asked whether the amount would be within a given range, such as $25,000 or more. Respondents who say “yes” are then given a larger range (e.g., $50,000 or more) while respondents who say “no” are given a smaller range (e.g., $5,000 or more).
The subset of respondents who are eligible to be asked a given question during the interview. While some questions are asked of all respondents, some have a narrower “universe” based on sex, marital status, employment status, or any number of other criteria. See also skip pattern.
Valid skip
Refers to a situation where a respondent legitimately skips a question or set of questions because he or she is not part of the universe. See also invalid skip.
Short for “cross round.” Xrnd variables are not directly associated with a given interview round. Using the NLSY79 for illustration, variables with the question name (qname) MARSTAT-KEY identify marital status at the date of the interview, and therefore are associated with a given interview year (1979, 1980, etc.). In contrast, MOBG1M and YRBG1M are constructed, "xrnd" variables that identify the month and year of respondents' first marriage (if applicable), regardless of when it took place or when the information identifying its start date was reported. See also CVC.

… 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)