Created Variables

MILITARY JOB CODES: These variables provide for military occupations a code similar to the occupation codes for civilian jobs.
These variables contain the number of weeks the respondent was enlisted in the active military since the last interview. They are constructed by cycling through the STATUS array (see Labor Force Status section) for weeks since the last interview and counting status codes that indicate the respondent was in the active military during a given week.
These variables contain the number of weeks the respondent was enlisted in the active military in the calendar year prior to the survey year. They are constructed by cycling through the STATUS array (see Labor Force Status section) for weeks falling in the calendar year prior to the survey year and counting status codes that indicate the respondent was in the active military during a given week.


Important Information About Using Military Data

While there is no created NLSY79 variable that identifies members of the active forces, there is a simple method of identifying these individuals through 1993. Active members of the Armed Forces can be indirectly identified by the first CPS question. The CPS section should not be answered by active duty personnel (but should be answered by reservists) since it pertains only to civilian work. Hence, individuals who are valid skips (-4) for the question entitled "Activity During Most of the Survey Week" are on active duty (also see the Labor Force Status section). There is no similar simple method of identifying reservists; researchers must instead create their own military event history. The NLSY79 data set contains information on the date an individual left the most recent branch of service and the date the respondent enlisted in a service branch. When following these variables for an individual, researchers should note that a number of respondents switch branches of the service and hence report a military stop and start date during a single interview.

The NLSY79 is unique in that respondents are chosen from both the civilian and military populations. Since most surveys focus on one or the other, researchers rarely can compare outcomes simultaneously for both groups. Funding by the U.S. Department of Defense in the early years of the survey and continued interest by BLS has enabled the NLSY79 to collect a large amount of data on military occupations, training, wages, and testing scores.

Although funding cutbacks reduced the size of the military sample in 1985, military questions continue to be a part of every round of the NLSY79. Researchers will find that the questionnaires from 1979 to 1985 contain substantial information on military experience. While questionnaires from 1986 on contain less information, the interviews continued to ask respondents about key variables such as military enlistment, pay, and training. Researchers should note that respondents age 16 and under at the 1979 interview were not asked any military service questions; this group was asked three questions concerning attitude toward military service and the possibility of enlisting in the future.

NLSY79 military members consist of two groups. The first group is a special oversample of members of the Armed Forces. This group, which in 1979 included 1,280 respondents, was reduced to 201 respondents in 1985 because of funding cutbacks. The second group consists of NLSY79 respondents who joined the military while part of the sample. For example, in 1979 (R00431.) 508 respondents stated that they would "definitely try to enlist in the Armed Forces in the future." 

Table 1 shows the number of NLSY79 respondents who are in the active military by year and the number of individuals who have enlisted in any branch of the service since the last interview. Researchers need to understand the difference between active and reserve duty. Large portions of the "Military" section are either skipped or answered depending on a respondent's active or reserve duty status. Many people believe that active duty personnel are in full-time military jobs while reserve duty are part-time military jobs, but this is not the case. While many reservists serve two weeks a year, a number of reservists are employed full time, year round by the Armed Forces. A more complete picture of military service is gained by examining data on both active and reserve personnel.

The NLSY79 contains more than 1,600 variables pertaining to life in the Armed Forces. The following sections explore some of these variables in more depth. Researchers should note that military information can be combined with other NLSY79 data to provide useful insights into residence characteristics, marital status, fertility, and schooling while an individual serves in the Armed Forces.

Table 1. Number of NLSY79 Respondents in the Active Armed Forces and Number Who Enlisted in Any Branch in That Year

Year In Active Forces Enlisted Any Branch   Year In Active Forces Enlisted Any Branch
1979 1218 (NA) 1993 145 10
1980 994 212 1994 134 8
1981 855 251 1996 107  11
1982 825 254 1998  92 6
1983 780 228 2000  58 5
1984 707 162 2002  43 3
1985 400 93 2004  32 3
1986 328 87 2006  54 4
1987 301 53 2008  42 5
1988 257 63 2010   26 6
1989 249 36 2012   19 2
1990 211 30 2014   14 5
1991 184 19 2016  11 0
1992 163 20      
Note: Each year the NLSY79 contains a variable that states if the respondent enlisted during the past year (for example, R02326. in 1980).

Military Occupation: Questions about military occupations were asked in 1979-85. In each year, respondents in the military were asked to report their primary military occupation (for example, R16324. in 1985) and their secondary occupation (R16337. in 1985). These questions were part of a section that also asked for information about how much training the respondent had recently received. Researchers who use the Census Bureau's 3-digit occupation codes should note that while military occupations also are coded with 3-digit codes, the classification scheme is completely separate. CHRR coded military occupations with codes developed by the Department of Defense (1977). Researchers interested in a respondent's Military Occupation or Specialty (MOS) should search for MOS for Army, Marine Corps, and National Guardsmen. Respondents in the Navy or Naval Reserves are classified by their "Primary Rating," while Air Force and Air Force Reserves respondents are classified by their "Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSC)."

Military Training: One focus of the NLSY79 military section is training. In 1980 members of the active Armed Forces were asked why they enlisted in the military (R02516.). The most important reason cited by the majority (217 respondents out of 993) was "To get trained in a skill that will help me get a civilian job when I get out." To understand military training, surveys prior to 1986 asked each respondent about the primary and secondary job for which they were trained.

Pre-1986 surveys also 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. Each survey also contains two questions that explore the usefulness of military training for civilian life. One question asks if the respondent is doing the same kind of work in civilian life as in the military; the second asks if the respondent uses any skills learned in the military in any civilian jobs. Researchers interested in more details on how military training is transferable to civilian work should see Mangum and Ball (1986).

Military Pay and Bonuses: The NLSY79 contains a large amount of information on military pay and bonuses. During the early years of the survey, pay information was collected for individuals in the military, individuals in the reserves, and individuals who had separated from the military. Additional information was gathered on the amount of educational and enlistment benefits received. Finally, for individuals who left the Armed Forces, some interviews contain information on the primary reason for separation. A number of respondents stated low pay as their primary reason for leaving the military. Table 2 summarizes pay variables for members of the military.

Table 2. Military Pay Variables in the NLSY79

Variable 1979 1980-1985 1986-2016   Variable 1979 1980-1985 1986-2016
In Service: Current Pay Grade * * * Participate in VEAP?1 * * *
Monthly Pay * *   Amount VEAP Benefits   * *
In Reserves: # Weekly Drills Paid * *   Participate in Tuition Assistance   *  
Number of Weeks Served on Duty * *   Tuition Amount   *  
Left Service: Last Pay Grade * * * Received Enlistment Bonus, Amount * *  
Last Monthly Pay * *   Received Reenlistment Bonus, Amount * *  
1 VEAP questions are now combined with other educational benefits.

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). For more details on the AFQT and ASVAB, refer to the Aptitude, Achievement & Intelligence Scores section.

Comparison to Other NLS Cohorts: The NLSY79 young adult questionnaire has a military section similar to the main youth. NLSY97 respondents first state in which, if any, branch of the Armed Forces they serve and whether they serve in the regular forces, the reserves, or the National Guard. The survey then collects dates of service and occupational and pay information from respondents age 16 or older who report their employer as an active branch of the Armed Forces. Young Men provided similar information about military service, including pay and occupational data. Older Men reported the dates of any military service. For more precise details about the content of each survey, consult the appropriate cohort's User's Guide using the tabs above for more information.


Mangum, Stephen and Ball, David. Occupational Skill Training and Transferability: How Does the Military Fare? Proceedings of the Thirty-Ninth Annual Meeting, Industrial Relations Research Association (1986) 412-21.

U.S. Department of Defense, Manpower Reserve Affairs and Logistics. Occupational Conversion Manual. Alexandria, VA: D.M.D.C., 1977.

Survey Instruments and Documentation The questions on the military are located in the following sections of the NLSY79 questionnaires: Section 7 (1979), Section 6 (1980), Section 5 (1981), and Section 4 (1982-2016).
Areas of Interest The variables may be found within the "Military" area of interest on the data set.