Attrition and Its Implications in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979

Alison Aughinbaugh, Charles R. Pierret, and Donna S. Rothstein


After 26 rounds of data collection, attrition in the NLSY79 remains remarkably low. Over 77 percent of those still living participated in the round 26 interview in 2014-15. The most significant reason for the high retention rate in the NLSY79 is likely the innovation of attempting to interview all baseline sample respondents in each round. The NLSY79 also collects data on employment and other topics in an event-history format, which fills in important information if respondents miss an interview, but are then interviewed again in a later round. In logits examining the probability of participating in later rounds, we find that attrition from the NLSY79 is fairly random with respect to basic demographics and labor market behavior, marital status, and number of children at age 30. We also estimate the effects of educational attainment and other characteristics at age 30 on labor force participation, earnings, and family income at that age. We find that survey participation in the most recent rounds is not related to these outcomes. Attrition does not appear to lead to biased estimates in models of important economic relationships.