NLSY User-Initiated Questions

Overview and Call for Proposals

The National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth (NLSY) are a set of surveys designed to gather information at multiple points in time on the labor market activities and other significant life events of various groups of men and women. The 1979 cohort (NLSY79) includes 12,686 persons who were 14 to 22 years old when the survey began in 1979. The NLSY79 Children/Young Adults survey comprises roughly 8,000 children who were born to NLSY79 women. The 1997 cohort (NLSY97) includes 8,984 persons who were 12 to 17 years old in 1997. For more than four decades, National Longitudinal Surveys data have served as an important tool for economists, sociologists, other researchers, and policymakers. The surveys are sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), with data collection and user services provided, under contract, by the Center for Human Resource Research at The Ohio State University and NORC at the University of Chicago. Funding for the NLSY79 Children/Young Adults survey is provided by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

BLS, the principal investigators (PIs) for each cohort, and the NLS Technical Review Committee (TRC) invite researchers with interests in U.S. labor markets and related topics to propose questionnaire changes to be considered for future survey rounds. The goal of this process is to improve the quality, policy relevance, and scientific value of the surveys and to encourage the submission of new ideas.

The surveys have long benefited from the input of researchers; however, researchers should be aware of important constraints in the survey process. To provide continuity, we must ask each survey's full set of core questions during each round. This sharply limits the number of new questions that can be added. Researchers who wish to submit proposals also should note that the process involves substantial time leads; it can easily take three to five years between the time that questions are proposed and data become available to the research community. Also, please note that because the surveys are funded by the Federal government, BLS cannot consider proposals from political organizations. BLS is ultimately responsible for the content of these surveys and will select questions that best support the mission of the BLS and the interests of the NLSY user community.

BLS welcomes all suggestions, from informal to concrete proposals. Please contact the relevant PI. If you desire to submit a more formal proposal, the PI will work with you to develop it.

Cohort Principal Investigator Contact Info
NLSY79 Deborah Carr
Child/Young Adult Elizabeth Cooksey
NLSY97 Lowell Taylor

Preparing a proposal

Proposals are intended to open dialogue with NLSY personnel. Researchers who submit successful proposals should expect to work closely with BLS staff and the PIs to develop and refine their questionnaire items. The proposal should include the suggested wording of the proposed questions; the scientific rationale for the questions; a rationale as to how the questions support the mission of the BLS and the interests of the NLSY user community; an explanation for how the data generated by the questions will be used in analysis; and an indication of how those analyses will use the special features of the NLSY.

Researchers are strongly encouraged to contact the relevant PI (see above) regarding their ideas before preparing a proposal. Informal suggestions are welcome as well; please email these directly to the PIs.

How to Prepare a Proposal

Each proposal must contain the following information:

  1. The cohort or cohorts (NLSY79, NLSY79 Children/Young Adults, or NLSY97) to which you propose to add your questions.
  2. Suggested wording for the proposed questions.
  3. The scientific rationale for the questions.
  4. An explanation of the statistical methods that will be used in analyses of the data generated by the questions.
  5. A rationale as to how the questions support the interests of the NLSY user community and the mission of the BLS, which is to collect, analyze, and disseminate essential economic information to support public and private decision-making.
  6. An explanation of how the proposed analyses will use the special features of the NLSY, such as its longitudinal data, siblings, parents and children, or multiple cohorts.

How long can a proposal be?

Proposals are limited to four pages with font no smaller than 12 point, one-inch margins, and double spacing. The proposed questions themselves can be included in an appendix and do not need to be counted against the four-page limit.

How many questions can I discuss in a single proposal?

There is no limit to the number of questions you can discuss in a particular proposal. However, given time constraints, shorter modules are more likely to be accepted. Length is secondary to quality. We are looking for proposals that provide a strong, clear argument about why the proposed questions provide value to the NLSY user community.

How to Submit a Proposal

When should I submit a Proposal?

Preliminary proposals may be submitted at any time. Researchers should take into account that proposals serve as a first stage in a process of developing, testing, and refining their questions, and that it may well take three to five years from the time a proposal is submitted and the time the data become available for research.

How do I submit a Proposal?

Send proposals by email to in Adobe PDF format. For quickest processing, please make sure that:

  1. The proposal itself is attached to the email, in Adobe PDF format
  2. The proposal meets the formatting and length guidelines listed under Preparing a Proposal above.

Proposal Evaluation

Proposals will first be screened for form and content. Proposals that pass the initial screening will be reviewed by the BLS, the survey PIs and members of the TRC, who will consider the following criteria:

  1. Scientific Rationale. How relevant to scholarship and public policy are the ideas being proposed? Are the ideas theoretically grounded? Can the proposed questions significantly advance the field?
  2. Suitability to the NLSY. The surveys have a number of special features, such as their longitudinal design, the presence of siblings, data on parents and children, and multiple cohorts. Which of these features do the proposed questions and the planned analysis exploit? Why should these questions be in the NLSY rather than a cross-sectional survey? Are the proposed questions age-appropriate?
  3. Statistical Methods. What methods will be used to analyze data from the proposed questions? How will those methods, in conjunction with the data, deal with important specification issues?
  4. Interests of the NLSY User Community and the BLS. How do the questions support the mission of the BLS, which is which is to collect, analyze, and disseminate essential economic information to support public and private decision-making? Will the issues addressed by the questions be relevant to broad segments of the NLSY user community? Will data from the questions be widely used?
  5. Respondent Burden. Do the questions ask too much of our respondents? Will the burden imposed make it less likely they will respond in future rounds? How much additional respondent burden will be added to the survey by the addition of the questions?

Decisions of which proposals to accept will be made by BLS in consultation with the PIs and TRC and in light of the survey time available.

Funding Considerations

Some successful proposals may be funded from existing BLS resources. External funding is an option for accepted proposals for which BLS funding is not available. Parties interested in providing funding would need to budget the cost of a one-minute module at approximately $100,000, but this is only a guideline, and specific pricing must be negotiated with BLS. Roughly three simple questions can be asked and answered in one minute. Please be aware that data collected from all questionnaire modules, including externally funded modules, will be made available to all NLSY users on an equal basis. Funding of survey modules does not confer exclusive or privileged access to NLSY data. In addition, if confidentiality concerns require that data from these modules be placed on restricted-access data sets, you would need to apply for access using procedures described on the BLS website. Information about how to apply to use restricted-access data is available on the NLS FAQ page.