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February 2005, Vol. 128, No.2

Education data in the NLSY79: a premiere research tool

Kenneth I. Wolpin

Perhaps the most widely used data in social science research are those related to measures of education; among such measures, years of schooling is the most ubiquitous. A search of the National Longitudinal Survey (NLS) Annotated Bibliography yields 1,803 articles, book chapters, dissertations, and so forth, in which either the word "education" or "schooling" appears in the title, abstract, or as a keyword.1 Of those, more than 1,000 were based on the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1979 (NLSY79) data.2

Researchers’ use of education measures found in the NLSY79 spans several social science disciplines, particularly economics and sociology, and, to a lesser extent, psychology. A large number of articles using NLSY79 education measures have appeared in major general audience and specialty journals. (See table 1.)3 In economics, there were 8 such journals, totaling 78 published articles, and in sociology, 6 journals with 47 articles. In psychology, one journal specializing in child development published five articles, and one medical science journal also published five.4

The topics covered in these articles vary widely, as is evident from looking at the titles of the journals. These articles can be classified into two broad categories: (i) articles that study schooling decisions themselves (for example, how much schooling to complete, whether to drop out of high school, or choice of college major), and (ii) articles that study the "effect" of schooling on some other decision or outcome (for example, on wages, fertility, or alcohol consumption). In both cases, the NLSY79 data is chosen for its omnibus nature (that is, the data include information other than schooling), and because the data are longitudinal.

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1 Education alone yields 1,600 matches, schooling alone 588, with 385 matches using both. A search for the words "earnings" or "wages" yielded 1,437 matches, and for "income," 1,027 matches. All of these figures are somewhat overstatements because of duplications that arise when papers appear in multiple forms, for example, as a working paper and later as a journal publication.

2 When referring to the NLSY79, I include the Children of the NLSY79. Recall also that the NLS consists of five additional cohorts, four begun between 1966 and 1968, and the latest begun in 1997.

3 I thank Terry Fahey at the Center for Human Resource Research (CHRR) for performing the specialized search of the Bibliography’s data base on which these figures are based.

4 This is the only psychology journal publishing at least five such articles. There are about a dozen other psychology journals that have published fewer than five, though most have published only one article.

Related BLS programs

National Longitudinal Survey

Related Monthly Labor Review articles

‘Second-chance’ strategies for women who drop out of school.Dec. 2000.
Education and the work histories of young adults.
Apr. 1993. 

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