Marriage and Children




Friends and dating. From 1988 to 2014, children aged 10 and older were asked about their friendships, whether they felt lonely, and how much pressure they felt from friends to engage in anti-social behavior. These questions can be found in the CHILD SELF-ADMINISTERED SUPPLEMENT area of interest.

Questions about dating behaviors were also asked of children ages 10 and older as part of the Child Self-Administered Supplement from 1988 to 2014, and the format of each question and information on which years each question was asked is provided in Table 1 below. They were also asked whether there were any rules in the family about dating. If there were rules, they indicated how much say they had in making such rules and whether they argued with their parents about dating or parties. With the exception of variations in response choices, these questions on family rules about dating were taken from the National Survey of Children, Wave 2 (Spring 1981), Section C: Child Questionnaire, items 58-61. Q.5 (how much say child has in the previous rules i.e. how much child gets to help decide), and Q.6 (how often child and parents argue about the rules).

Children completing the Child Self-Administered Supplement were asked to express the degree to which they agreed with the following two statements: "It is perfectly okay for a girl to ask a boy for a date, even if he has never asked her" and "A girl should pay her own way on dates."

Table 1. NLSY79 Child Survey dating questions by survey year

Question 1988 1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006-2014
Have you had your first date or have you started going out alone with someone?a For 1988-2000, see note below * * *
At what age did you have your first date? * * * * * * * * * *
About how often do you usually go out on a date? * * * * * * * * * *
Are you going out with one particular person, or are you dating more than one person? * * * * * * * * * *
How many different people have you gone out with in the past twelve months?                   *
In your home, are there any rules about dating? * * * * * *
How much say to you have in making the rules about dating? * * * * * *
How often do you argue with your parent(s) about dating? * * * * * *
A girl should pay her own way on dates.       * * * *
It is perfectly okay for a girl to ask a boy for a date, even if he has never asked her.       * * * *
 a In 1988-2000, the question "At what age did you have your first date?" included a response option that allowed the child to indicate that he or she hadn't started to date yet.  In 1988,  a response of "0" was entered for the age at first date question if the child indicated that he or she had not started to date yet. In 1990-2000, a response of "95" to the age at first date question indicated that the child had not started to date yet.


Survey Instruments Questions on dating are found in the Child Self-Administered Supplement.
CHILD SUPPLEMENT (2006-present)


Young Adult

Questions about dating have been included in all Young Adult survey rounds, although the structure and amount of information collected has varied. All Young Adult surveys have included questions about whether the respondent has ever dated and, if so, at what age they first began dating. 

From 1994 through 1998, Young Adults were also asked for the month and year they first dated. Those respondents who were neither married nor cohabiting were asked if they had a steady boy/girlfriend. If they did, they were asked follow-up questions about plans to get married to that person and the likelihood of cohabitation with that person. Those without a steady boy/girl friend were asked about whether they thought they would ever marry as well as the likelihood they might cohabit with someone in the future. Any respondent who indicated either specific or general marriage plans was also asked the age at which that might occur. Everyone who was neither married nor cohabiting was also asked two additional questions about the number and frequency of dates in the previous 12 months.

Beginning in 2000, the dating questions were changed significantly. For example, questions to ascertain the month and year of the first date were dropped. Since 2000, new Young Adults under age 21 have been asked how many close friends they have who are girls and who are boys. These two questions had also been asked of these respondents as children in the Child Self-Administered Supplement.

Since 2000, Young Adults who do not have a current spouse/partner but who have indicated that they have started dating are asked a series of questions about current dating behavior. Initially they are asked the number of people they have dated in the last 12 months and, if the number is one or more, how often they go out on dates. They are then asked whether they are currently dating only one person, more than one person, or no one. Those dating only one person are asked how long they have been dating that person. They are also asked how happy they are with that person and how frequently they argue about:

  • showing affection toward each other
  • how much time they spend together
  • dating other people
  • friends

Additionally, all Young Adults without a current spouse/partner are asked what their ideal romantic relationship would be right now and also in 10 years' time. Since 2008, four questions have been asked about future relationships. Respondents are asked both whether they will ever/ever again cohabit and whether they will ever/ever again get married. If respondents answer yes to either question, they are asked how likely that event will occur in the next two years.

Since 2004, a series of questions have also been asked of respondents who do not report a partner on the household record but indicate that the most recent time they had sexual intercourse was within the last month and their relationship to their sexual partner is either engaged, living together, or going steady. These Young Adults are asked whether they spend the night at one or the other's place and, if so, how many nights a week they spend the entire night together. They are also asked if they share any household expenses such as rent, groceries or utilities. These questions can be found in the self-report section.

Comparison to Other NLS Surveys: The NLSY79 survey provides data on respondents' experiences with dating and sexual activity in some survey rounds. The Child Self-Administered Supplement includes a variety of dating questions, as discussed above. The NLSY97 provides data on respondents' experiences with dating and sexual activity in all survey rounds. For more complete information, refer to the appropriate cohort's User's Guide.

Survey Instruments Questions on dating are found in the Young Adult Instrument, Section 3, Dating and Relationship History.
Area of Interest YA Dating and Marriage