National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979


The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) is a nationally representative sample of 12,686 young men and women born during the years 1957 through 1964 and living in the United States when the survey began. The survey respondents were ages 14 to 22 when first interviewed in 1979. During the years since that first survey, the participants in this cohort typically have finished their schooling, moved out of their parents' homes, made decisions on continuing education and training, entered the labor market, served in the military, married, started families of their own, and thought about their retirement expectations. Data collected from the NLSY79 respondents chronicle these changes and provide researchers with a unique opportunity to study the life-course experiences of American men and women.

The cohort began with oversamples of Hispanics, economically disadvantaged nonblacks and non-Hispanics, and youths in the military. The military oversample was discontinued after the 1984 survey, and the economically disadvantaged nonblacks and non-Hispanics oversample was discontinued in 1990.  There are currently 9,964 eligible respondents after the two subsamples were dropped.  Interviews were conducted annually from 1979 to 1994 and on a biennial basis thereafter.  Data are now available from Round 1 (1979 survey year) to Round 29 (2020 survey year).

Three independent probability samples makeup the NLSY79:

  • A cross-sectional sample of 6,111 respondents designed to represent the noninstitutionalized civilian segment of young people living in the United States in 1979 and born January 1, 1957, through December 31, 1964 (ages 14 to 21 as of December 31, 1978)
  • A supplemental sample of 5,295 respondents designed to oversample civilian Hispanic or Latino, black, and economically disadvantaged, nonblack/non-Hispanic youths born in the same time period
  • A military sample 1,280 respondents designed to represent the population born January 1, 1957, through December 31, 1961, serving in the military as of September 30, 1978. The inclusion of the military sample allows comparative civilian-military analyses.

Following the 1984 interview, 1,079 members of the military sample were no longer eligible for interview; 201 respondents randomly selected from the military sample remained in the survey. Following the 1990 interview, none of the 1,643 members of the economically disadvantaged, nonblack/non-Hispanic sample were eligible for interview. The most recent round of interviews has 6.535 participants, including 2,458 in the supplemental sample and 135 in the military sample.

Public-Use Data

NLS public-use data for each cohort are available at no cost via Investigator, an online search and extraction site that enables you to review NLS variables and create your own data sets. It is not necessary to get an account to browse data, but an account is necessary to save datasets online. The Investigator User's Guide describes how to use this website. Because the NLSY79 dataset contains over 100,000 variables, it is recommended that researchers use the Investigator to extract variables of interest rather than download the entire dataset.

Restricted-Use Data

NLSY79 confidential geocode data include the respondent's state, county and MSA of residence and codes identifying colleges attended. These restricted-use data are a small subset of the NLS dataset and when provided to the researcher, the included respondent ID variable facilitates linking to the public use data. More detail about the variables on the geocode data files is available in the NLSY79 Geocode Codebook Supplement and the NLSY97 Geocode Codebook Supplement.

To protect the confidentiality of respondents, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) only grants access to geocode files for researchers in the United States who agree in writing to adhere to BLS confidentiality policy and whose projects further the mission of BLS and the NLS program to conduct sound, legitimate research in the social sciences. Applications from abroad cannot be accepted. Applicants must provide a clear statement of their research methodology and objectives and explain how the geocode data are necessary to meet those objectives. Researchers who are granted access to NLSY Geocode data may use them from approved locations on the physical premises of their institution (more detail on Geocode application process).

Applicants for the NLSY79 NLSY Geocode data must complete the Standard Application Process (SAP) through the online portal at ResearchDataGov (RDG). RDG is a portal for requesting access to restricted microdata from federal statistical agencies.

After your standard application has been approved by BLS, you will complete a BLS specific form detailing the signing official information for your institution, your software requirements, and other specifics of you proposed security set-up. This form is sent to you only after your standard application has been approved by BLS.

For researchers who want to measure smaller geographic areas, NLSY79 has restricted-use zip code and census tract files. These files also include all of the geocode data.

These confidential files are available for use only at the BLS National Office in Washington, DC, and at Federal Statistical Research Data Centers (FSRDCs) on statistical research projects approved by BLS. Access to data is subject to the availability of space and resources. Information about applying to use the zip code and Census tract data is available on the BLS Restricted Data Access page.

There are both public-use and restricted-use data files available. Users can obtain PSID main and supplemental study ZIP files from the website’s data page. These files contain data in text format, SAS, SPSS, and Stata program files, as well as codebooks and other pertinent documentation. The PSID Data Center allows users to create custom data sets based on chosen variables that are then merged across waves and files. Data can be generated in a variety of formats including ASCII, SAS, SPSS, and Stata.

The restricted-use data are provided only under conditions of a contract between the researcher and the University of Michigan. Restricted data include, but are not limited to, geospatial information, school identifiers, assisted housing linkages, vehicle make and model, child reports of sensitive information, criminal justice system exposure, National Death Index linkages and more. To see all available files, please see the Restricted Data webpage.

Sample Code

The sample code provided is based on data extracts using the NLS Investigator. The code can be found here.