Geographic Residence & Environmental Characteristics

Geographic Residence & Environmental Characteristics


Young Women Geographic Residence & Environmental Characteristics Variables

Important Information

Users should be aware of a number of changes in the geographic data over the years. Important information about inconsistencies, revisions, and privacy issues is contained in the following paragraphs:

The amount of geographic information provided by the Census Bureau has always been limited. This was, in part, the trade-off for the richness of data available in all other topical areas. Census felt that the detailed information available for each respondent in combination with the geographic location was sufficient, in some cases, to identify specific respondents. To protect respondent identities and fulfill the promise of anonymity, only gross geographic measures such as South/non-South, size of the labor force from the 1970 Census, and unemployment rate from the 1970 Census and current CPS are consistently released.

As data were analyzed based on respondents' permanent addresses, some peculiar and inconsistent results were observed. When specifications for the creation of these variables were checked, a problem with the type of address information utilized, permanent versus temporary, was uncovered. It was not clear in all cases exactly which address had been used by Census as the respondent's permanent address or which respondents had their original data based on address information from the screening as opposed to the first interview. One critical universe that was apparently affected was college students temporarily away from their permanent residences at the time of the interview. As a result of these problems, the entire series of geographic variables was revised in the mid-1970s.

While in most instances the geographic information from the early surveys will be consistent with that in the revised series, there are a number of instances when this will not be true. Thus, the revised series should be considered as replacing all earlier geographic information even though the unrevised information has been left on the data sets. Users will find the word "REVISED" appended to the variable titles of most of these variables; the custom of appending REVISED was continued after the mid-1970s revisions to alert users to the fact that the same methodology continued to be utilized to create subsequent years' variables. Notes that appear within the codeblock of the unrevised variables reference the appendix of the Codebook Supplement that describes the revised variables released at that point in time. It is strongly suggested that this new set of variables be used in any analysis that includes geographic mobility.

After Congress passed the Privacy Act of 1974, Census froze the definitions of NLS geographic variables in an attempt to carry out the spirit of the new law. SMSA codes assigned to the 'Residence - SMSA Status' variables were those in effect as of January 1, 1976 (Office of Management and the Budget). As time passed, these geographic variables became increasingly less useful since the information Census provided was based on definitions that did not correspond to current geographical definitions.

Due to the increasingly inaccurate boundaries and the limitations imposed by the Privacy Act, BLS decided to restrict the set of variables that would be created to those that were known to be accurate. For all post-1990 surveys, the following variables are no longer created: (1) 'Comparison of Current Residence with Previous SMSA,' (2) 'Residence - Size of Labor Force,' and (3) 'Residence - Unemployment Rate for Labor Market' (both Census and CPS versions). Characteristics of the respondent's local labor market are no longer released, nor are measures of the geographic proximity of the respondent's residence to the employer (except what can be approximated by length of travel). Also unavailable is information on whether the location of a respondent's employer is in an SMSA. Any variables reflecting SMSA status and related comparison variables were discontinued.

Retained for continued release were (1) 'Residence Status (Mover),' a set of variables that had always been based on permanent address comparisons, and (2) three other variables based on definitions that had remained the same since the inception of the surveys (i.e., 'Region of Residence [Revised],' 'Comparison of Current Residence with Previous State,' and 'Comparison of Current Residence with Previous County'). These last two comparison variables do not reveal the existing geographic location of the respondent, only her movement into and out of the state and/or county. The standard set of mobility questions that allows researchers to track reasons associated with mobility will continue to be included in each questionnaire.

A limited number of geographic variables are available in this data set. Due to Census Bureau confidentiality concerns, such variables provide only broad geographical demarcations of the respondent's area of residence, e.g., the name of the Census division, whether the residence was located in the South or non-South, and whether the residence was in an SMSA. A series of comparison variables contrast the respondent's current state/SMSA of residence with those of her birthplace, previous residences, and current job. A set of geographic mobility questions was included in recent surveys. Finally, characteristics of the respondent's environment are available in several variables describing the size of the labor force and unemployment rate for the labor market of current residence; this series stops with the 1988 interview. Specific information on the names of the county, state, or metropolitan statistical area(s) in which respondents reside is not available in the public data files.

Geographic variables that are not on the public-use files may be requested for any of the original cohorts. Proposals in which researchers request access to such variables are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. For more information, visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site at Geographic variables also are available for use at Census Data Centers (see

Due to the fact that Census procedures for the geocoding of geographical boundaries were deliberately frozen in the mid-1970s, users are advised to be skeptical about all variables relating to location below the state level except those delineating movement between counties.

Geographic Residence

Some of the primary sets of geographic variables are described below. Table YW1 depicts the years for which various created variables are available.

Table YW1. Created Variables for Geographic Residence and Mobility by Survey Year

 Created Variables Survey Years
1968-88 1991-2003
Region of Residence (South/Non-South) * *
Residence Comparison
  State, County * *
  SMSA *  
  Size of Labor Market *  
  Residence in SMSA *  
  Residence Status (Mover) * *
  Unemployment Rate for Labor Market *  

Birthplace: Information for each respondent identifies the birthplace in relation to the respondent's permanent residence as of the initial survey year. Coding categories include same SMSA/county; different SMSA/county, same state; different state, same division; different division; and abroad. Birthplace information is also available for each respondent's mother, father, and maternal/paternal grandparents; see the Family Background section of this guide for a breakdown of birth country of parents and grandparents. The decision rules used to create a nationality variable for each respondent are discussed within the Race, Ethnicity & Nationality section of this guide.

Region of Residence (Revised): A series of variables indicates whether the location of the respondent's permanent address was in the South or in one of the non-South regions of the United States, e.g., the Northeast, North Central, or West. A listing of states constituting the various Census divisions is provided in Appendix 2 (PDF) in the Codebook Supplement. The three divisions comprising the South include the South Atlantic Division, the East South Central Division, and the West South Central Division. Users should note that both a revised version and a non-revised version of the 'Region of Residence' variables are present. Revised versions should be used whenever available. See the User Notes at the end of this section for more information.

Census Division of Current Residence: A series of variables is available for the early years that identifies the Census division (e.g., New England, Middle Atlantic, Mountain, Pacific, etc.) of the respondent's permanent address. Appendix 2 (PDF) in the Codebook Supplement contains a listing of the nine Census divisions and the states comprising each.

Residence - SMSA (SMSA Status): A series of revised variables identifies whether the current residence of a respondent is "central city of the SMSA," "balance (not central city) of the SMSA," or "not in SMSA."Two versions of this variable are present: (1) 'Current Residence in SMSA' and (2) 'SMSA Status in (YR) (Revised).'  The revised version of these variables should be used when it is available. The User Notes at the end of this section discuss issues relating to the SMSA classification systems in use by Census.

Residence Status (Mover): A series of revised variables indicates whether a respondent has moved (i.e., reported a permanent address change) since the initial survey year. Residence in the first survey year is coded "1."Code "2" in a subsequent survey year indicates that the respondent has had an address change from the original residence, and code "3" indicates that no move occurred.

Comparisons of Current Residence with Previous State/County/SMSA: This set of variables, available for each survey year, does not reveal the actual state, county, or SMSA of the respondent's current residence, but rather codes movement of the respondent in relationship to the permanent address reported in the first survey. The respondent's county, state, and SMSA are all coded "1" for 1968. A code of "2" in a given survey year indicates that the respondent had moved to, for example, a different county. A subsequent move in year 10 back to the 1968 county would again be coded "1." Appendix 25 (PDF) in the Codebook Supplement provides a further explanation of this coding system along with a listing of other geographic variables present through the mid-70s. The SMSA comparison series was discontinued after 1988 for reasons described in the User Notes section.

Comparison of Current Residence & Location of Current Job: A set of variables present for select survey years compares each respondent's location of current residence with the location of her current (or last or longest) job. Coding categories include same SMSA or county; different SMSA or county, same state; different state, same division; different division; abroad; and other.

Geographic Mobility: Information on the geographic mobility of respondents was collected during 1983 and 1988-2003. Data were collected, for those whose residence had changed, on date of move to current residence, location of previous residence, number of miles between current and previous residence, length of time the respondent lived in her previous residence, and the reason(s) she moved. The 1983 interview included an extended series on the impact of the move on the respondent's and her husband's employment, e.g., attitude toward job and effect on seniority, pension, retirement, and earnings.

Second Residence: Information on whether a respondent resided in another residence during part of the year was collected during the 1995 interview. Variables provide information on the specific months of the year the respondent was in residence at that location and give the year she first started spending time there. The location of the second residence is compared with that of the respondent's current residence using the same coding categories as the comparison of the respondent's residence and current job.

Type of Property of Residence: A single variable identifies whether the respondent's property in the original survey year was "urban" or a "farm" or "nonfarm" residence with varying acreage and sales.

Type of Area of Residence: A single 1968 variable identifies whether the respondent lived in (1) an "urbanized area" of a certain size (over 3 million, under 250,000, etc.), (2) an "urban place outside an urbanized area" of varying population sizes, or (3) a "rural" area.

Environmental Characteristics

Two sets of created variables provide information on characteristics of the labor market in which a respondent resided. The geographical unit used to define "residence" for the revised versions of the following variables was the 1970 Primary Sampling Unit (PSU), a geographical sampling area made up of one or more contiguous counties or Minor Civil Divisions (MCD).

Residence - Size of Labor Force: Two series of created variables provide information about the size of the labor force in the respondent's area of residence. The first series, present for 1968-78, is based on data from the 1960 Census. In the mid-70s, when problems with address information were discovered, the Census Bureau recreated the variables using the 1970 Census data. This more accurate revised series of variables is present for 1968-88.

Residence - Unemployment Rate for Labor Market: Two series of variables provide data for the unemployment rate of the respondent's labor market of current residence. One set is drawn from the 1970 Census of Population and the second set from varying years of the Current Population Surveys. These variables are present for the 1968-88 survey years. Unemployment rates were calculated for each CPS Primary Sampling Unit (PSU) by summing the total number of unemployed for each month and dividing by the total number in the labor force over a twelve month period. A combined unemployment rate was computed for PSUs in the same Special Labor Market Area (i.e., combinations of two or more PSUs) and assigned to each PSU within the area. The Census Bureau created the unemployment rate by running the monthly CPS rates for the PSUs through the quarterly program and then running the quarterly rates through the annual program to obtain the average. These rates were then collapsed further into broader categories. See reference number R63253.00 for an example. The question name is NCV-UR-RECODE.YY and the variables are titled "UNEMPLOYMENT RATE FOR LABOR MARKET OF CURRENT RESIDENCE, CPS, YY REVISED."

Survey Instruments: These geographic residence variables are, for the most part, created by Census Bureau personnel from the permanent address information available for each respondent. Information on the birthplace of each respondent and of each respondent's parents and grandparents was collected from the respondent during the initial survey year; questions can be found in the Family Background section of the questionnaire. Information on the location of a current job used to construct the comparison of current residence with location of job was collected in the Current Labor Force Status questionnaire sections.


Office of Management and the Budget. Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas, Revised Edition. Washington, DC: Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, 1975.