For both employee and self-employed jobs, respondents' verbatim descriptors of their occupations are coded using a three-digit Census code frame. Freelance jobs that do not qualify as self-employment are coded according to the type of work performed. (See Attachment 1: Census Industrial & Occupational Classification Codes for more details about the Census coding).

Important Information About Using Occupation Data

  1. If the job has already been reported during a previous interview, that job's start-date information was asked during that previous interview. Respondents are read a description of the occupation they reported as of the last interview date and asked if there was any change between the last interview date and the current interview date (or stop date for jobs that ended). If there was no difference, the job is assigned the same occupation code; if the respondent reports a change, a new occupation code is assigned for the current round. However, if the job has been previously reported and the respondent's total job length was less than 13 weeks, no additional information is collected in the current interview. In this situation the relevant data are available in the previous round's data. Note: In 2013, the "less than 13 weeks" criteria was changed to "less than 26 weeks." 
  2. Some respondents reported a job for the first time in round 2 that ended before the round 1 interview date. (These jobs should have been reported in round 1 but were overlooked by the respondent.) In these cases no occupation information was collected.
  3. Some errors were detected in data collection methods for questions on Armed Forces jobs in rounds 1 through 5. These errors were corrected for round 6. Users should also note that military specialty code data may contain errors because these codes contain some alphabetic characters but the coding system used did not permit the input of alphabetic characters.

Employee Jobs

The NLSY97 asks respondents age 14 or older to report their occupation for each employer. The question "what kind of work did you do" elicits information on the occupation when the job started. A follow-up question asks the respondent to describe his or her usual activities or duties on this job. The occupational classification at the job's end date (or at the survey date for on-going jobs) is solicited for all employee jobs lasting more than 13 weeks. Survey staff then code the respondent's occupation at each job.

To view tables summarizing industries and occupations reported by NLSY97 respondents with employee jobs, go to Industry & Occupation Tables.

Through Round 5, respondent industry and occupation were coded using the 1990 Census code frames. As part of the 2000 Decennial Census, the Census Bureau and BLS revised the industry and occupation code frames. Codes from the 2002 Census codes frames are now available for all rounds. The move to the new frame makes sense in part to maintain comparability with the Current Population Survey (CPS) and other federal surveys, which have adopted the new frame. In addition, using historical code frames becomes increasingly problematic over time as new industries and occupations arise that are inadequately handled in the old frame. At the same time, changing frames can introduce disruption into the longitudinal record; it may not always be appropriate to change frames whenever updates occur. 

A second change underlies the shift to the 2002 code frame. While NORC had previously performed all coding to the 1990 code frames, the industry and occupation coding tasks were completed by the Census Bureau for the 2002 frames. There are documented differences in coding practices across the two organizations, so house effects in coding are likely to surface in the data. The process followed by the Census Bureau includes use of the respondents' reports of usual duties, title, etc., and contextual information on respondent income and education. Problem cases are selected for manual review by an experienced coder or coding supervisor. Rates of manual review are similar for the NLSY97 as for the CPS. Wherever possible the Census Bureau has attempted to implement for this survey the coding procedures in place for the CPS.

Users should note that the 2002 frame differs considerably from the 1990 frame in organization, level of granularity, and other characteristics. Analyses of NLSY97 as well as CPS data indicate that jobs within a single category of one frame may disperse broadly to a variety of codes in the other frame.

Freelance Jobs

In rounds 1-3, NLSY97 youths not classified as self-employed (self-employed=job where the respondent is age 16 or older and usually earning $200 or more per week) described the type of work they performed during the interview. NORC personnel coded these verbatim descriptions for release in the data set. This information is located in variable FREELANCE_JOBS_COD.xx. Because the Census codes are not appropriate for this freelance employment, the descriptions were classified using a separate coding frame with categories such as babysitting, mowing, pet care, and snow shoveling. This information is located in variable FREELANCE_JOBS_NEWCOD.xx for rounds 1-5. The reporting of freelance jobs was limited in round 4 to respondents born in 1983-84 and in round 5 to those born in 1984. The coding of these jobs followed the same procedure as previous rounds. Beginning in round 6, no freelance jobs section is included.


For all freelance jobs reported in rounds 1-3 in which respondents were considered self-employed (age 16 or older, usually earn $200 or more per week), the survey asked the respondent about his or her occupation or the kind of work performed at that job. The series of questions that determined the occupation is similar to that asked for employee jobs. Survey staff then coded the occupation of each self-employed job using the 1990 Census occupational codes.

The structure of the questionnaire changed in round 4, based on the age of the respondent. Older respondents (those born in 1980-82 for round 4 and those born in 1980-83 for round 5) reported self-employment jobs in the employee jobs section, answering occupation questions like those listed above for employee jobs. These jobs were coded the same way as employee-type jobs. Younger respondents (those born in 1983-84 for round 4 and those born in 1984 for round 5) continued to list self-employment jobs in the freelance section. If a freelance job met the earnings requirement for self-employment, the occupation was coded using the 1990 Census codes. Starting in round 6, no freelance jobs section is included. All self-employed jobs were reported and coded in the same way as employee jobs.

Military Service

The survey asks respondents in the Armed Forces about the type of job they hold. Members of the Army, Army National Guard, Marine Corps, or their reserves report their Primary Military Occupational Specialty. Coast Guard or Navy (or their reserves) personnel report their Primary Rating. Respondents in the Air Force and Air National Guard (or their reserves) report their Primary Air Force Specialty Code.

Comparison to Other NLS Surveys: Occupation is collected each year from NLSY79 respondents; however, the jobs must meet minimum hours worked and weeks worked requirements before this information is collected. For the NLSY79, occupation is coded using the 1970 (through 1993) and/or 1980 (1982-present) occupational classification codes. Occupation is also coded using the 1970 and 1990 (for the CPS job only) codes for Children of the NLSY79 age 15 and older. For the Mature and Young Women, occupation was coded using 1960, 1980, and 1990 systems in various survey years. The occupations of Older and Young Men were recorded using the 1960 codes for all years; in the final two Older Men surveys, occupation was doublecoded using the 1980 system. For more information, consult the appropriate cohort's User's Guide.

Survey Instruments:These questions are found in the employment section of the Youth Questionnaire. Question names begin with YEMP- and roster items begin with YEMP_. To determine if a respondent was serving in the Armed Forces for a particular survey year, see variables with the prefix YEMP_MILFLAG.

Related User's Guide Sections


Main Area of Interest

Employment: Industry & Occupation
Supplemental Areas of Interest Training


Census Bureau. 1990 Census of Population Alphabetical Index of Industries and Occupations. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1991.