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February 2005, Vol. 128, No.2
Antecedents and predecessors of NLSY79: paving the course
James R. Walker
In 1965, at the prompting of the Assistant Secretary of Labor, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, individuals from the Department of Labor (DOL) and Ohio State University designed the National Longitudinal Surveys of Labor Market Experience. At the time, the participants did not realize that they were creating one of the premier, large scale national longitudinal surveys in the United States. Initially funded for 5 years by the Department of Labor, the "Parnes" data, as the Original Cohorts were called, continued for 37 years, with the last scheduled fielding of the women samples in 2003.1 The success of the Original Cohorts led to the creation of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79).
This article explores antecedents and predecessors of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1979.2 Longitudinal data are now so plentiful that it is difficult to imagine the world in which they did not exist. Yet, in the mid-1960s, the large scale longitudinal household surveys that came to dominate areas of sociology, demography, and labor economics did not exist. Analyses that are now commonplace were either not possible or inference was restricted to small or specialized samples.
Yet to suggest that there were no longitudinal data sources prior to 1965 is wrong; several longitudinal surveys predate the NLS. Two well- known studies reflect the nature of longitudinal data available before the start of the NLS. The Glueck study of juvenile delinquents from the Boston area followed 1,000 adolescents (500 juvenile delinquents and 500 non-delinquents) into adulthood to examine criminal behavior and contact with the justice system.3 Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck started interviewing at the end of 1938, completing the first wave of interviews in 1948. Two more waves of interviews followed as the youth were interviewed at ages 25 and 32. Interviews continued until 1965.
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1 "Parnes" data are named after one of the designers of the NLS, Herb Parnes, from Ohio State University.
2 Frank L. Mott, "Looking Backward: Post Hoc Reflections on Longitudinal Surveys," in Erin Phelps, Frank F. Furstenberg, and Anne Colby, eds., Looking at Lives: American Longitudinal Studies of the Twentieth Century (New York, Russell Sage Foundation, 2002 ). This offers another perspective on the history of the NLS program.
3 The Gluecks initiated a survey design that is difficult to match today. They interviewed the youth, their families, employers, school teachers, neighbors and justice officials. And they supplemented and validated the interview data with administrative data obtained from social welfare agencies. See Robert J. Sampson and John H. Laub, Crime in the Making: Pathways and Turning Points Through Life (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1995), p. 90.
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