The NLSY97: An Introduction: The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 Follows the Lives of 12- to 16-Year-Olds as They Make Pivotal Decisions regarding Education and Employment

By Horrigan, Michael; Walker, James | Monthly Labor Review, August 2001 | Go to article overview

The NLSY97: An Introduction: The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 Follows the Lives of 12- to 16-Year-Olds as They Make Pivotal Decisions regarding Education and Employment


Horrigan, Michael, Walker, James, Monthly Labor Review


This issue of the Monthly Labor Review introduces readers to the newest addition to the family of surveys sponsored by the National Longitudinal Surveys (NLS) Program of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Termed the NLSY97, the respondents to this survey are individuals who were aged 12 to 16 on December 31, 1996. The first set of interviews began January 1997 (hence, the NLSY97), and members of this longitudinal cohort have been interviewed on an annual basis ever since. This survey is conducted as an in-person interview, with the field interviewer entering the respondent's answers into a laptop computer--sometimes called a Computer Assisted Personal Interview (CAPI).

Designed as a longitudinal survey, the NLSY97 follows the lives of these young men and women as they make pivotal decisions as to whether they should continue their education after high school or choose an occupation and enter the world of work. We follow the progression of their lives as they become independent adults, settle into careers, form relationships, and make decisions about cohabitation, marriage, and the formation of families.

A key difference between cross-sectional surveys (such as the Current Population Survey) and longitudinal surveys (such as the NLSY97) is that annual interviews with the same individuals enable researchers to chronicle important events that individuals experience over the course of their lifetimes. For example, the collection of data on jobs held by sample members allows the construction of a week-by-week history of every job held (and the characteristics of those jobs) since the age of 14. Knowledge of the employment history of individuals, coupled with the rich array of the socioeconomic and demographic information collected in each interview, gives researchers the ability to investigate and isolate how the choices individuals make at younger ages can affect outcomes later in life. For example, does working during the school year while in high school have a net positive or negative impact on labor market success as adults?

This issue of the Monthly Labor Review contains five articles that use data from the first round of interviews with the NLSY97 cohort. These articles, which are described briefly below, investigate important aspects of the early labor market experiences of these youths. The NLSY97 questionnaires, however, collect information on a much wider set of topical areas, reflecting the complexity of the lives of our respondents. The diversity of questions also reflects the interest and mission of our partners in the Federal Government. A number of Federal Government agencies have and continue to provide funding support for various questionnaire modules in the NLS family of surveys, including the NLSY97.

In the first round of interviews, information was collected about the youths' relationships with their parents, contact with absent parents, marital and fertility histories to date, and sexual activity. Funding support was received from the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development for these question modules. With support from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, modules were constructed that asked respondents about criminal behavior, contact with the criminal justice system, and alcohol and drug use. Areas of the youth survey that are potentially sensitive, such as sexual activity and criminal behavior, are asked in a self-administered portion of the survey in which the respondent listens to the questions on earphones and types his or her answers directly into the laptop computer.

In addition, just prior to the first round of interviews with the NLSY97 cohort, BLS conducted a survey of schools to determine the nature and extent of school-to-work programs. This survey of schools (and a follow up survey conducted in 2001) provides a valuable complement to the data on these programs reported by the NLSY97 respondents. Funding from the Departments of Education and Labor's National School-to-Work Office provided support for both the surveys of schools and for the development of a questionnaire module on School-to-Work programs that have been included in the NLSY97 first round interview. …

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