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February 2005, Vol. 128, No.2
Children of the NLSY79: a unique data resource
Lawrence L. Wu and Jui-Chung Allen Li
A remarkable design aspect of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) is the availability of longitudinal data on all children born to women in the original NLSY79 sample. The resulting data from the Children of the NLSY79 provide a resource that is unique in many respects. Perhaps not surprisingly, these data have been used by researchers across a wide range of disciplines, including child development, demography, economics, epidemiology, family studies, social policy, and sociology. Much of the usefulness of these data stem from two key factors: they can be linked to the rich longitudinal data for the NLSY79 mothers, and the child and young adult surveys are themselves longitudinal, covering a wide range of ages from early childhood and adolescence through the young adult years.
As noted in other articles in this issue of the Monthly Labor Review, the main respondents in the NLSY79 are a nationally representative sample of individuals aged 14–22 in 1979, with surveys conducted annually through 1994 and biennially since 1996. The child sample—consisting of offspring aged 14 or younger—was begun in 1986, while the young adult sample—consisting of offspring aged 15 or older—was begun in 1994, with both the child and young adult samples fielded biennially since initial data collection.1 The survey instruments differ substantially in the child and young adult surveys, as reviewed below. Because of the longitudinal design of the child and young adult samples, offspring are interviewed initially in the child sample, and then in the young adult sample as they reach adolescence. Thus by design, sample sizes in the two samples will vary from wave to wave, but as of the 2002 wave, the child sample contained 11,340 children, and the young adult sample contained 4,648 young adults.
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1 Members of the Center for Human Resource Research (CHRR) and, in particular, Frank Mott played a crucial role in developing and designing the child and young adult surveys. Because plans to collect data on offspring were not part of the original NLSY79 data design, external funding sources were required to collect these data. As a consequence, the availability of offspring data were dependent on the foresight of Frank Mott, who in the early 1980s spearheaded efforts by staff at CHRR and NLS to secure external support for collecting data on the Children of the NLSY79. It is also important to recognize that at the time of initial data collection, many of the substantive issues, as well as statistical and methodological techniques appropriate for these data, were in their infancy. In these and others ways, those who envisioned these data in the early 1980s were well ahead of their time.
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