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National Longitudinal Surveys

NLSY79 Data Overview

The NLSY79 is a nationally representative sample of 12,686 young men and women born during the years 1957 through 1964 and living in the United States when the survey began. The survey respondents were ages 14 to 22 when first interviewed in 1979. During the years since that first survey, the participants in this corhorts typically have finished their schooling, moved out of their peoples' homes, made decisions on continuing education and training, entered the labor market, served in the military, married, started families of their own, and thought about their retirement expectations. Data collected from the NLSY79 respondents chronicle these changes and provide researchers with a unique opportunity to study the life-course experiences of Americans men and women. 

The cohort began with oversamples of Hispanics, economically disadvantaged nonblacks and non-Hispanics, and youths in the military. The military oversample was discontinued after the 1984 survey, and the economically disadvantaged nonblacks and non-Hispanics oversample was discontinued in 1990.  There are currently 9,964 eligible respondents after the two subsamples were dropped.  Interviews were conducted annually from 1979 to 1994 and on a biennial basis thereafter.  Data are now available from Round 1 (1979 survey year) to Round 27 (2016 survey year).

Topical Guide to the Data

The topical guide presents detailed information on major subject areas and variables in the NLSY79 survey.  The Asterisk Tables provide summary tables of variables selected from Round 1 to the latest round.  Below are the topics gathered in the survey.

Introduction to the Sample

The NLSY79 sample design enables researchers to analyze the disparate life course experiences of groups such as women, Hispanics, blacks, and the economically disadvantaged. Three independent probability samples makeup the NLSY79:

  • A cross-sectional sample of 6,111 respondents designed to represent the noninstitutionalized civilian segment of young people living in the United States in 1979 and born January 1, 1957, through December 31, 1964 (ages 14 to 21 as of December 31, 1978)
  • A supplemental sample of 5,295 respondents designed to oversample civilian Hispanic or Latino, black, and economically disadvantaged, nonblack/non-Hispanic youths born in the same time period
  • A military sample 1,280 respondents designed to represent the population born January 1, 1957, through December 31, 1961, serving in the military as of September 30, 1978. The inclusion of the military sample allows comparative civilian-military analyses.

Following the 1984 interview, 1,079 members of the military sample were no longer eligible for interview; 201 respondents randomly selected from the military sample remained in the survey. Following the 1990 interview, none of the 1,643 members of the economically disadvantaged, nonblack/non-Hispanic sample were eligible for interview.  After these two subsamples were dropped, 9,964 respondents remain eligible for interview.  A separate cohort was created for all children born to the NLSY79 female respondents in 1986 to expand the breath of child-specific information collected in the survey.  Learn more about the NLSY79 Child and Young Adult Survey.  The table below provides an overview of those who responded the survey in Round 1 and in the latest Round 27.

NLSY79 Sample Sizes by Subsample, Race/Ethnicity & Gender
Round Number, Gender Total Sample Cross-sectional Sample Supplemental Sample Military Sample
Cross-sect. Total Non-black/ non-Hisp. Black Hispanic or Latino Supp.Total Poor nonblack/ non-Hispanic Black Hispanic or Latino Military Total Nonblack/ non-Hispanic Black Hispanic or Latino

Round 1

Male

6403 3003 2439 346 218 2576 742 1105 729 824 609 162 53

Female

6283 3108 2477 405 226 2719 901 1067 751 456 342 89 25

Total

12686 6111 4916 751 444 5295 1643 2172 1480 1280 951 251 78

Round 27

Male

3326 1974 1592 248 134 1223 -- 747 476 129 57 52 20

Female

3586 2218 1754 305 159 1358 -- 835 523 10 4 4 2

Total

6912 4192 3346 553 293 2581 -- 1582 999 139 61 56 22

Learn more about the NLSY79 Sample Design & Screening Process, Interview Methods, Data Confidentiality, and Sample Retention and Reasons for Noninterview.

Using and Understanding the Data

Information on survey instruments, variable types, the interviewing process, item nonresponse, sample weights and design effects, data documentation, and how to access the data are available on the NLSY79 User Guides and Documentation section.

Other Documentation

Accessing Data

View Accessing Data for detailed information on accessing the NLSY79 public-use and the confidential files. The public-use NLS data are available on the Investigator.  The links below provide answers to frequently asked questions about requesting the NLSY79 Geocode and Zip-Code and Census Tract files.

Latest News Release

Cross-Cohort NLSY79/97 Overview

An NLSY79/NLSY97 cross-cohort beta release is now available on Investigator. This dataset harmonizes NLS data across two cohorts, allowing users added opportunities to perform cross-cohort comparisons. Initially the dataset includes interview date, reason for noninterview, age, marital status, highest grade attended, highest grade completed, and employment status, with possible expansion to over 100 variables. Fixed background variables are also included, such as sex, race, and AFQT score. See Cross Cohort Harmonization Overview document for more information. To access the data, go to https://www.nlsinfo.org/investigator and select "NLS Cross Cohort Beta."

Last Modified Date: July 22, 2020