The NLSY79 is a nationally representative sample of 12,686 young men and women who were 14-22 years old when they were first surveyed in 1979. These individuals were interviewed annually through 1994 and are currently interviewed on a biennial basis. Since their first interview, many of the respondents have made transitions from school to work, and from their parents' homes to being parents and homeowners. These data provide researchers an opportunity to study a large sample that represents American men and women born in the 1950s and 1960s, and living in the United States in 1979.
A key feature of this survey is that it gathers information in an event history format, in which dates are collected for the beginning and ending of important life events. Labor force activity is detailed in this manner. Information includes the start and stop dates for each job held since the last interview, periods in which individuals are not working but still with an employer (called within-job gaps), and labor market activities (looking for work, out of the labor force) during gaps between jobs. Because individuals' work histories are collected in this manner, measures of actual labor market experience, tenure with a specific employer, and employer mobility are easily calculated. Additional information collected in the event-history format includes marital status, fertility, and participation in government assistance programs such as unemployment insurance and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).
Although a primary focus of the NLSY79 survey is labor force behavior, the content of the survey is considerably broader. The survey contains an expansive set of questions ranging from child-care costs to welfare receipt. For example, the survey includes detailed questions on educational attainment, training investments, income and assets, health conditions, workplace injuries, insurance coverage, alcohol and substance abuse, sexual activity, and marital and fertility histories. Additional labor force information includes hours worked, earnings, occupation, industry, benefits, and other specific job characteristics.