Employment: An Introduction


Important Information About Using Employment Data

Users are advised to read the Jobs & Employers and Work Experience pages first for any employment-related research.

NLSY79 respondents answer questions about current and previously held jobs, with no limit to the number or types of jobs a respondent may report. These data are collected about every employer for whom the respondent worked since the last interview so that a complete picture of the respondent's employment can be constructed.

Work Experience

This area provides a full work history of employment, including characteristics of the current or most recent employer and of any other employers for whom the respondent worked, military service, and any gaps in employment. From this information and other retrospective information, a longitudinal record spanning from the date of, and to some extent the time preceding, the first interview through the most current interview date can be constructed for each respondent. Most surveys also collect cross-sectional information about the respondent's activities during the full week preceding the week of the survey

Jobs & Employers

The NLSY79 collects detailed information about individual employers for whom a respondent has worked. In the NLSY79, references to a "job" are essentially references to a given employer. The Jobs and Employers section describes the main questionnaire and employer-specific instruments that collect job-related information. It points out the importance of the designated current/most recent employer or "CPS job" in obtaining job characteristics. It also lists types of job characteristics gathered and any restrictions of data collected based on CPS-job status, weeks worked, or hours worked.

Beginning with the 2002 survey, the section on jobs serves two functions. First, as in previous survey rounds, the respondent reports all of his or her employers since the last interview, so that they can be included on the roster. Second, a set of questions is asked to ascertain whether the job has characteristics of self-employment, regular employment, or nontraditional employment.

Class of Worker

Class of worker data have been collected during each interview. These variables indicate whether a respondent:

  • works for a private company or individual for wages, salary, or commission
  • is a government employee
  • is self-employed in his or her own business, professional practice, or farm
  • is working without pay in a family business or farm

Beginning in 2002 changes were made to better identify nontraditional occupations worked by respondents. This included a clarification of what defines self-employment.


Various employment-related discrimination questions have been asked throughout the survey years. Specific questions included whether the respondent believed that specific types of discrimination (race, nationality, sex, and age) had caused them problems in getting a good job or a promotion. Those in the military were asked whether race, sex, or rank discrimination was one of the reasons the respondent had left the military or would choose not to reenlist. Other questions concerned the demographic composition of coworkers and whether the respondent had received any equal opportunity or diversity sensitivity training. Ageism questions were added in 2018.

Fringe Benefits

Availability of fringe benefits has been collected during each survey year except 1981. Fringe benefit information does not reflect actual coverage by a specific benefit but rather a respondent's reported knowledge of whether his or her employer made such a benefit available.


Industry information has been collected for each year of the survey, with two sets of variables available. The first set of NLSY79 variables is 'Type of Business or Industry of most Recent Job (CPS Item).' The second set of variables is 'Type of Business or Industry Job #1-5.' Respondents' descriptions of these industries and businesses are coded into various versions of the Census Bureau's industrial classification system.

Job Characteristics Index

This area includes a series of questions on characteristics of the respondents' current job, such as the amount of variety, amount of autonomy, opportunity to deal with people and develop friendships, opportunity to complete tasks, amount of significance they attributed to their job, and the amount of performance feedback received. It was limited to the 1979 and 1982 data collections.

Job Satisfaction

Job satisfaction measures have been collected for employed respondents during each survey year. During select survey years respondents in a Federally funded employment and training program were asked to rate the program.

Job Search

NLSY79 job search questions provide data that show what methods were used, how intensively respondents searched, and the outcome of these searches. Topics include:

  • Who Searches: Respondents, both working and non working, are asked if they are searching for work.
  • Methods of Job Search: Respondents are asked the specific types of activities they used to find work.
  • Duration of Job Search: Both employed and not employed job seekers are asked about job search activity over the past four weeks.
  • Why Was Search Started and Stopped: The NLSY79 has extensive information on why respondents started searching and why they stopped.
  • Hypothetical Jobs: The NLSY79 from 1979 to 1982 included questions about hypothetical job offers.

Labor Force Status

The CPS sections of the NLSY79 instruments replicate the questions asked in the monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) of American households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the U.S. Department of Labor. There was no CPS section in 2000-2004 and from 2008 on.


The NLSY79 is unique in that respondents were chosen from both the civilian and military populations. Although funding cutbacks reduced the size of the military sample in 1985, the questionnaires from 1979 to 1985 contain substantial information on military experience. Military questions continue to be a part of every round of the NLSY79. NLSY79 military members consist of two groups, a special oversample of members of the Armed Forces and NLSY79 respondents who joined the military while part of the sample. Areas of focus available in varying years include:

  • Military Occupation: Respondents in the military were asked to report their primary military occupation and their secondary occupation.
  • Military Training: Pre-1986 surveys asked military respondents about the number of weeks of formal training received in the military, the amount of on-the-job training, and the amount of formal schooling.
  • Military Pay and Bonuses: The NLSY79 contains a large amount of information on military pay and bonuses.
  • ASVAB Administration: During the summer and fall of 1980, NLSY79 respondents participated in an effort of the U.S. Departments of Defense and Military Services to update the norms of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB).


Regularly fielded sections of NLSY79 instruments have collected information on respondents' occupation. Data on occupations are also available for other family members, including the spouse and parents of the respondent.

Time and Tenure with Employers

This section provides information on time spent with and away from an employer and between-job gaps. Variables in this section focus on usual hours and shifts worked, periods of time working for an employer, tenure with an employer, and periods not working or in the military.


Data on respondents' usual earnings have been collected during every survey year for each employer for whom the respondent worked since the last interview date.

Work History Data

The NLSY79 Work History Data provides researchers with a week-by-week longitudinal work record of each NLSY79 respondent from January 1, 1978, through the current survey date.

Employer History Roster

The Employer History roster includes information on virtually all employers reported by NLSY79 respondents, with many of the employer characteristics reported for each employer included in a single record.

Business Ownership

Beginning n 2010 (round 24), NLSY79 respondents who were current or former business owners were asked a lengthy series of questions about each business owned since age 18.


Starting in 2006, NLSY79 respondents answered questions about how they thought about and defined retirement.

Age Restrictions on Early Employment Data

In the early survey years, some restrictions were imposed on data collected on work experience, specific employers, and military service. These restrictions applied, for the most part, to those respondents under the age of 16 at the time of the 1979 survey, although some extend beyond that age. Table 1 summarizes age restrictions that can be found in the work and job experience sections of the 1979 questionnaire.

Table 1. Age Restrictions on Employment Data in 1979

Area Restrictions
Military Those respondents 16 years and under at the 1979 and subsequent interviews were skipped past all military service questions. This age group was only asked three questions concerning attitudes on service in the military and the possibility of enlistment in the future (Q.72-Q.74). Variables from this section are found in the "Misc. 1979" area of interest, and for subsequent years, in both the "Misc. xxxx" and "Military" areas of interest.
On Current Labor Force Status (CPS Questions) Those CPS questions concerning activity most of the survey week and CPS job (Q.1-Q.36) were asked of all respondents. However, those respondents ages 15 or younger were not asked the questions dealing with looking for work.  Questions in this section are found in the "CPS" and "Misc. xxxx" areas of interest.
On Jobs Information on school-related jobs is collected for 14- and 15-year-olds. School-related job information is also collected for other respondents who were not employed since 1978 and who were enrolled in regular school at some time since January 1, 1978. For those 16 years and older, information on all jobs since January 1, 1978, was collected. For all respondents, information was gathered on enrollment in various types of government-sponsored programs that provided jobs. These variables can be found in the "Jobs" and "Misc. 1979" areas of interest.
Jobs (Employer Supplements, in subsequent survey years) For the first job listed (which should be the CPS job), 14-15 year olds were routed through the entire series of questions, regardless of whether the job was a government-sponsored job. For each additional job that was not government-sponsored, 14 and 15 year olds were asked only a basic set of questions about start/stop dates, reasons for leaving (if applicable), and hours worked per week. For each additional job that was government-sponsored, all applicable information was gathered, regardless of the age of the respondent. These variables can be found in the "Job Information," "Government Jobs," and "Misc. 1979" areas of interest. Users should keep in mind that some of the information contained in the "Job Information" variables will refer to government-sponsored jobs (and possibly school-related/work-study jobs), as general information was collected on these jobs as well.
On Last Job Lasting 2 Weeks or More Information is regularly collected on the last job held. There is no age restriction. These questions can be found in the "Jobs before 1978" area of interest.
On Work Experience Prior to January 1, 1978 If the respondent was 19 years or younger at the time of the 1979 interview, he or she would have been under 18 before 1978, so the retrospective information for the time period prior to 1978 was not collected. However, respondents not enrolled in regular school at any time between January 1978 and the interview date, regardless of age, were asked about the first job they held for two or more months at which they worked 20 hours a week or more after they stopped attending school. Variables from this section are found in the "Jobs after School" area of interest.