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August, 2001, Vol. 124, No. 8
The NLSY97: an introductionMichael Horrigan and James Walker
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?
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