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Economic News Release
NLS NLS Program Links

Number of Jobs, Labor Market Experience, and Earnings Growth: Results from a National Longitudinal Survey Technical Note

Technical Note

   The estimates in this release were obtained using data from the first 27 rounds
of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79). This survey is conducted
by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and the Center
for Human Resource Research at The Ohio State University under the direction and
sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. 
The NLSY79 is a nationally representative sample of 12,686 young men and women who
were 14 to 22 years of age when first surveyed in 1979. This survey sample was
initially composed of three subsamples: 
   --A cross-sectional sample of 6,111 youths that was designed to represent the
     noninstitutionalized, civilian population of young people living in the U.S.
     in 1979 and born between Jan. 1, 1957, and Dec. 31, 1964. 
   --A supplemental sample of 5,295 youths designed to oversample noninstitutionalized,
     civilian Black, Hispanic or Latino, and economically disadvantaged nonblack, non-
     Hispanic or Latino youths living in the U.S. in 1979 and born between Jan. 1, 1957,
     and Dec. 31, 1964. 
   --A military sample of 1,280 youths born between Jan. 1, 1957, and Dec. 31, 1961, 
     and enlisted in the Army, Air Force, Navy, or Marine Corps as of September 30, 1978. 
   In 1985, the military sample was discontinued, and, in 1991, the economically
disadvantaged nonblack, non-Hispanic youths were dropped from the supplemental sample.
As a result, the NLSY79 sample now includes 9,964 individuals from the cross-sectional
sample and the Black and Hispanic or Latino supplemental samples. (This sample size is
not adjusted for sample members who have died.) 

   Individuals were surveyed annually from 1979 to 1994 and biennially since 1994. In
2016-17, 6,912 individuals responded to the survey, for a retention rate of 69 percent
(representing a 76 percent response rate among those sample members who are still living).
Only these individuals are included in the estimates in this release. All results are
weighted using the 2016-17 survey weights that correct for the oversampling, interview
nonresponse, and permanent attrition from the survey. When weighted, the estimates
represent all persons born in the years 1957 to 1964 and living in the U.S. when the
survey began in 1979. Not represented by the survey are U.S. immigrants who were born
from 1957 to 1964 and moved to the U.S. after 1979. 

Work history data 
   The total number of jobs that people hold during their work life is an easy concept to
understand but a difficult one to measure. Reliable estimates require a survey that
interviews the same people over the course of their entire work life and also keeps
track of all the jobs they ever held. The NLSY79 tracks the number of jobs that people
have held, but most of the respondents in this survey are still working and have more
years of work life ahead of them. As the cohort continues to age, more complete
information will become available. 

   A unique feature of the NLSY79 is that it collects the beginning and ending dates of
all jobs held by a respondent so that a longitudinal history can be constructed of each
respondent’s work experiences. The NLSY79 work history data provide a week-by-week work
record of each respondent from Jan. 1, 1978, through the most recent survey date. These
data contain information on the respondent’s labor force status each week, the usual
hours worked per week at all jobs, and earnings for all jobs. If a respondent worked
at more than one job in any week, hours and earnings are obtained for additional jobs.
When a respondent who missed one or more consecutive survey rounds is interviewed again,
he or she is asked to provide information about all time since the last interview. 

Interaction between time and age in a longitudinal survey 
   Because the NLSY79 is a longitudinal survey, meaning the same people are surveyed over
time, the ages of the respondents change with each survey round. It is important to keep
in mind this inherent link between the calendar years and the ages of the respondents. For
example, table 5 reports earnings growth from age 45 to age 52. The youngest respondents
in the sample (birth year 1964) were these ages during 2009-16, whereas the oldest
respondents (birth year 1957) were these ages during 2002-09. 
   Although participants in the NLSY79 were ages 51 to 60 during the 2016-17 interviews,
this release covers only the period while the respondents were ages 18 to 52. The reason
for not including older ages is that the sample sizes were still too small to provide
statistically reliable estimates for age groups older than 52. As the NLSY79 continues
to be administered and the respondents age, subsequent rounds of the survey will enable
analyses to be conducted for older age groups. 

   As with age, the educational attainment of individuals may change from year to year. In
the tables and analysis presented in this report, educational attainment is defined as of
the 2016-17 survey. This definition is used even when data on age and educational attainment
are presented together. For example, table 1 reports the number of jobs held during different
age categories. Suppose that a respondent had completed a bachelor’s degree at age 52. That
respondent would be included in the “Bachelor’s degree and higher” educational category in
all age categories shown on the table, even though he or she did not have a bachelor’s degree
at any point from age 18 to age 51. 
   Job. A job is defined as an uninterrupted period of work with a particular employer. Jobs
are therefore employer-based, not position-based. If a respondent indicates that he or she
left a job but in a subsequent survey returned to the same job, it is counted as a new job.
For example, if an individual worked in a retail establishment during the summer, quit at
the end of summer to return to school, and then resumed working for the same employer the
following spring, this sequence would count as two jobs, rather than one. For self-employed
workers, each “new” job is defined by the individuals themselves. 
   Unemployment. If respondents indicate a gap between employers, they are asked how many
of those weeks they spent searching for employment or on layoff. For that number of weeks,
they are considered unemployed. For the remaining weeks, they are coded as not in the labor
force. No probing for intensity of job search is done. 

   Usual earnings. Respondents can report earnings over any time frame (hour, day, week, month,
year). For those who do not report an hourly wage, one is constructed using usual hours worked
over that time frame. Wages greater than $100 per hour and less than $1 per hour (in 1979 dollars)
were not included in the analysis of earnings growth because the reported earnings levels were
almost certainly in error. For the same reason, individuals who had inflation-adjusted earnings
growth greater than 100 percent were not included in the analysis. 
   Race and ethnicity groups. In this release, the findings are reported for non-Hispanic whites,
non-Hispanic Blacks, and Hispanics or Latinos. These three groups are mutually exclusive but not
exhaustive. Other race groups, which are included in the overall totals, are not shown separately
because their representation in the survey sample is not sufficiently large to provide statistically
reliable estimates. In other BLS publications, estimates usually are published for Whites, Blacks,
and Hispanics or Latinos, but these groups are not mutually exclusive. The term Hispanic or Latino
is considered to be an ethnicity group, and Hispanics or Latinos can be of any race. Most other
BLS publications include Hispanics or Latinos in the White and Black race groups in addition to
the Hispanic or Latino ethnicity group. 

Information in this release will be made available to sensory impaired individuals upon request.
Voice phone: (202) 691-5200; Federal Relay Service: (800) 877-8339. 

Table of Contents

Last Modified Date: October 07, 2020