National Longitudinal Surveys
The development of a questionnaire involves a review of earlier questions, the analysis of field notes from the previous round, and the identification of new topics and questions for inclusion in the current survey. The development of each survey instrument generally is begun at least 2 years prior to the fielding. Each of the ongoing surveys has its own design team made up of Bureau of Labor Statistics staff, NLS survey contractors, and outside experts. Advice from the NLS Technical Review Committee and other Government agencies is often sought regarding survey questionnaire initiatives and other survey-related issues.
The central focus of each cohort's survey is, to some extent, determined by the particular stage of labor market attachment that each of these six unique age-sex groups is experiencing at the time of the interview. Each survey instrument is organized around core sets of questions on the following topics: Employment, education, training, marital status, fertility, participation in government assistance programs, income, and assets.
Each cohort also is asked questions that are focused on its stage in the life cycle. For example, the surveys of older men have focused on plans for their future — specifically, retirement, pension plan participation, and health. Special topics for the mature women's cohort have included questions on household and volunteer activities, childcare, care of parents, plans for retirement, and pension plan participation. The surveys of both the young men's and young women's cohorts have focused on educational goals, high school and college experiences, characteristics of their high schools, and future job plans. The young women's cohort is ongoing, and, as the women are aging, the focus is shifting to retirement issues and transfers of time and money to and from their parents and their children.
The NLSY79 cohort has been interviewed periodically for over 20 years. When sample members were younger, special topics included their family background, knowledge of the world of work, educational and occupational aspirations, and expectations. As the respondents aged, special groups of questions were asked about pre- and postnatal health behaviors, job search, migration, and drug and alcohol use, among other topics. The changing life stage of the NLSY79 cohort prompted the NLS program to hold an NLSY79 Redesign Conference in 1998. The goal was to evaluate current questions in key areas of the survey, identify areas for improvement, and provide direction for future rounds as the NLSY79 passes into its next life stage. The NLS program commissioned papers by experts in key subject areas to provide this information and received many useful recommendations therefrom.
Eight development teams, each composed of recognized experts in critical content areas, contributed to the design of the initial NLSY97 survey. Lessons learned from the NLSY79 and other NLS cohorts were incorporated into the design of the NLSY97 survey instrument. The NLSY97 design team meets quarterly to discuss changes that might improve each round's questionnaire to capture youths'; transitions from school to work and into adulthood. Among the many innovations in the NLSY97 are the collection of information on the work experience of the very young in freelance jobs, the gathering of data on delinquent and criminal behaviors, and the accumulation of extensive information on high school and college experiences.
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