Children of the NLSY79: A Unique Data Resource: The Survey Provides a Wealth of Information on the Education, Socioeconomic Background, and Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Development of Children Aged 14 and Younger; and on the Workforce Participation, Education, Marital, and Fertility Behaviors of Young Adults Aged 15 or Older; the Data Have Been Heavily Used by Researchers across a Wide Range of Disciplines

By Wu, Lawrence L.; Li, Jui-Chung Allen | Monthly Labor Review, February 2005 | Go to article overview

Children of the NLSY79: A Unique Data Resource: The Survey Provides a Wealth of Information on the Education, Socioeconomic Background, and Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Development of Children Aged 14 and Younger; and on the Workforce Participation, Education, Marital, and Fertility Behaviors of Young Adults Aged 15 or Older; the Data Have Been Heavily Used by Researchers across a Wide Range of Disciplines


Wu, Lawrence L., Li, Jui-Chung Allen, Monthly Labor Review


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.

Sample design

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.

These data do not provide a nationally representative sample of children or young adults, although they are appropriately regarded as representative of the population of offspring born to U.S. women who were aged 14-22 in 1979. Sample coverage of this latter population is excellent. However, the child and young adult samples do not cover children of NLSY79 women who were concealed from the survey (for example, children born to a NLSY79 woman but given up for adoption), children who died before the initial 1986 children survey, or children in NLSY79 households who were lost to the survey because they were not interviewed. The numbers of children in the latter category far outweigh the numbers in the other two categories, but, by current survey standards, sample attrition is modest. In the 2002 wave, for example, roughly 84 percent of NLSY79 women who had one or more births were successfully interviewed, compared with only 74 percent of women who had no children.

Child assessment battery

A major interview component of the Children of the NLSY79 is the child assessment battery, which gauges the child's socio-emotional and cognitive development from birth to age 14 and provides measures of the home environment that are thought to be important for child development. The validity and reliability for these child assessments are high, with these measures available for roughly 90 percent of surveyed children. (An exception is the Home Observation of the Environment-Short Form (HOME-SF) (see below) for infants under age 3.) While these child assessment instruments were designed to be administered in a face-to-face interview, they are nevertheless close in quality to similar diagnostic instruments used in the clinical settings of child assessments. The battery covers multiple domains of a child's developmental trajectories, as well as the home environment for the child.

Home observation of the environment. The quality of a child's home environment is measured by the HOME-SF. (2) This instrument assesses the cognitive stimulation and emotional support for children under the age of 15.

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Children of the NLSY79: A Unique Data Resource: The Survey Provides a Wealth of Information on the Education, Socioeconomic Background, and Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Development of Children Aged 14 and Younger; and on the Workforce Participation, Education, Marital, and Fertility Behaviors of Young Adults Aged 15 or Older; the Data Have Been Heavily Used by Researchers across a Wide Range of Disciplines
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